Archive for the ‘Personalia’ Category

“With the jawbone of an ass…”   Leave a comment

Many years ago I read F.F. Bruce’s In Retrospect, and among the anecdotes he relates that for some reason or other have remained in my memory is one about W.M. Edward of Leeds University. Bruce says (pp. 106-107),

My new chief, Professor W.M. Edwards of the Chair of Greek in Leeds, was an unusual man. He had been born into a military family and himself embarked on a military career, being an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery until his later thirties. He then went to Oxford as an undergraduate, taking his B.A. at the age of forty and becoming a Fellow of Merton College the same year. Three years later he was appointed Professor of Greek in Leeds. He was an accomplished linguist, speaking Welsh, Gaelic, Russian and Hebrew as well as the commoner European languages. … On another occasion he came into my room to see me about something or other, and found me reading the Hebrew text of Judges. Immediately he threw back his head and recited in Hebrew, Samson’s song of victory, “With the jawbone of an ass…”

The Samson story is a good one, and well known. Students making their first forays into classical Hebrew prose rightly learn it thoroughly, and these two lines in verse 15:16 (בלחי החמור חמור חמרתים בלחי החמור הכיתי אלף איש), with the word play and the rhythm, make a good inhabitant of the memory’s palace. For fun, here they are in a few more languages, and some vocabulary in case students of any of these languages are reading.

Poster for Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949). Source.

Poster for Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949). Source; cf. this one.

Aramaic (Targum) בלועא דחמרא רמיתנון דגורין דלועא דחמרא קטלית אלף גברא

  • לווּעָא jaw
  • חמָרָא ass
  • דְּגוֹר heap

Greek Ἐν σιαγόνι ὄνου ἐξαλείϕων ἐξήλειψα αὐτούς, ὅτι ἐν σιαγόνι ὄνου ἐπάταξα χιλίους ἄνδρας.

Syriac (Pesh.) ܒܦܟܐ ܕܚܡܪܐ ܟܫܝ̈ܬܐ ܟܫܝܬ ܡܢܗܘܢ. ܒܦܟܐ ܕܚܡܪܐ ܩܛܠܬ ܐܠܦ ܓܒܪ̈ܝܢ܀

  • pakkā jaw, cheek
  • ḥmārā ass
  • kšā to pile up, heap (both verb and pass. ptcp. here)

Armenian ծնօտի́ւ իշոյ ջնջելով ջնջեցի́ զն(ո)ս(ա), զի ծնօտիւ իշոյ կոտորեցի հազա́ր այր։

  • ծնօտ, -ից jaw, cheek
  • իշայր, -ոյ wild ass
  • ջնջեմ, -եցի to destroy, exterminate
  • կոտորեմ, -եցի to shatter, destroy, massacre
  • հազար thousand

Georgian (Gelati; only the first half translated, and no mention of the ass!) ღაწჳთა აღმოჴოცელმან აღვჴოცნე იგინი

  • ღაწუი cheek
  • აღჴოცა to kill off (participle აღმოჴოცელი and finite verb both in the sentence)

Arabic (from the London Polyglot; there are other versions)

judges_15_16_london_polyglot

  • ṭaraḥa (a) to drive away, repel
  • ʕaẓm bone
  • ḫadd cheek
  • ḥimār ass
  • tulūl is a pl. of tall hill, but here, heap
  • fakk jawbone (cf. Syriac above)

Gǝʕǝz በዐጽመ ፡ መንከሰ ፡ አድግ ፡ ደምስሶ ፡ ደምሰስክዎሙ ፡ እስመ ፡ በዐጽመ ፡ መንከሰ ፡ አድግ ፡ ቀተልኩ ፡ ዐሠርተ ፡ ምእተ ፡ ብእሴ ።

  • መንከስ፡jaw, jawbone (√näkäsä to bite, like näsäkä, with cognates in many Semitic languages)
  • አድግ፡ ass
  • ደምሰሰ፡ to abolish, wipe out, destroy

NB: In Islamic tradition, it is not the jawbone of an ass, but that of a camel (laḥy baʕīr), that Samson employs:

وكان اذا لقيهم لقيهم بلحي بعير

(J. Barth & Th. Nöldeke, Annales quos scripsit Abu Djafar Mohammed Ibn Djarir At-Tabari, 1.II.794.7-8 [1881-1882]; available here) [More broadly, see Andrew Rippin, “The Muslim Samson: Medieval, Modern and Scholarly Interpretations,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71 (2008): 239-253.]

Franz Rosenthal on Hans Heinrich Schaeder   3 comments

Hinrich Biesterfeldt, ed. “Franz Rosenthal’s Half an Autobiography.” Die Welt des Islams 54 (2014): 34-105.

I’m now reading the hot-off-the-press memoir of Franz Rosenthal, edited by Hinrich Biesterfeldt. I highly recommend it for reasons of interest academic and historical. Here, as only a taste, are some remarks on his teacher Hans Heinrich Schaeder, with whom Rosenthal studied in Berlin.

My principal mentor and shaykh was Hans Heinrich Schaeder, then at the peak of his mental and physical powers, a conscientious and wonderfully inspiring teacher. His official field was Iranian, and I studied Middle Persian and Islamic Persian with him. Initially, he repaired the damage done me by an earlier course in Syriac that was taught by someone incompetent to teach the language. He showed me how to approach Muslim historical texts, how to reconstruct an Oriental religion, Manichaeism, from fragments transmitted in Arabic, and how to use the tools of scholarship properly. Above all, he was the living example of the need for, and the methods of looking at, the large historical picture without ever neglecting the details offered by the sources. He set the subject of my doctoral dissertation for which he prepared my way by his previous instruction in Aramaic. [p. 54]

I’m very happy that this document has appeared, and thanks are due to the editor and the publisher. As far as I’m concerned, one can never have too much personalia to read.

From Peter Boodberg’s “Philologist’s Creed”   2 comments

I’ve recently finished David B. Honey’s Incense at the Altar: Pioneering Sinologists and the Development of Classical Chinese Philology, AOS Series 86 (New Haven: AOS, 2001), which my friend Chuck Häberl pointed out to me a few months ago. The books covers the lives and works of these “pioneering sinologists” from various countries, backgrounds, and temperaments in what was for me a delightful reading experience.

While I’ve not mentioned Chinese here before, the study of Classical Chinese language, literature, and history developed, not surprisingly, along lines partly analogous to the study of other such fields, including the textual matrices and complexes frequently touched on at hmmlorientalia. Among the scholars discussed in Honey’s book is Vladivostok-born Peter Boodberg (1903-1972), and for now I’d just like to quote part of the latter’s “Philologist’s Creed,” which Honey gives in full (pp. 305-306). It’s a testament of Boodberg’s approach to philology (not only Chinese), his “brooding humanism” (Honey, p. 306), penned in a confessional tone (with echoes of the language of Qohelet in one part), and the excerpt given here (and the whole of it) might resonate — even if wryly! — with other students and scholars.

I mind me of all tongues, all tribes, and all nations that labored and wrought all manner of works with their hands, and their minds, and their hearts. And I cast mine yes unto Hind, unto Sinim, and the lands of Gogs and Magogs of the earth, across wilderness, pasture, and field, over mountains, waters, and oceans, to wherever man lived, suffered, and died; to wherever he sinned, and toiled, and sang. I rejoice and I weep over his story and relics, and I praise his glory, and I share his shame.

The tipping point of textual expertise   2 comments

How much reading do you have to do in a language until you read smoothly, without having to stop often and ask yourself about morphology or syntax, or to consult the dictionary? A simple question with a more complicated answer. It depends on the reader, on the language, on the text and genre, and even on the particular sentences within those texts (not all sentences within the same author or genre are of the same difficulty for learners), &c. And there are, of course, different kinds of reading, and many texts, too, for one reason or another merit, not only reading, but even multiple re-readings. Even with these variables, for most of us, fluid reading (or hearing) means the past mastering of several thousand lines wherein the dictionary did have to be frequently cracked, wherein the grammar did have to be checked, wherein the concordance did have to be probed, and wherein the original beside the version did have to be compared, and so on.

At the beginning of a unique Greek grammar for beginning students, Paula Saffire refers to a time in graduate school when reading Greek became less encumbered and more automatic for her.

The reason this happened was that I was reading Greek, happily, about eight hours a day, because of Harvard’s most powerful teaching tool, the Reading List. (Read all of Aeschylus, all of Sophocles, all of Homer, seven by Euripides, and so on.)[1]

The great Swedish scholar of Chinese, Bernhard Karlgren, wrote in 1908 of his reading assignments in some Germanic languages — to which family, it should be noted, belonged Karlgren’s mother tongue — while a student of Adolf Noreen:

300 pages Icelandic prose, 80 pages Icelandic poetry, 100 pages Gothic grammar, 40 pages Gothic text, 275 (difficult!) pages Old Swedish. I have very good reasons to rest a little while.[2]

At the time, Karlgren was working on two majors: one the subject just mentioned, and the other being Slavonic Languages. (Karlgren needed to master Russian because of the font of materials on Japanese and Chinese in that language. Students of Georgian are in a similar situation today.)

I don’t have a specific number, whether in hours or in lines, to answer the question asked above. But I know that it is a lot, and in many cases we may recognize the specific number only after the fact. One day, after hour upon hour and line upon line, we just realize that we’re moving along in a text with far fewer bumps in the road than before. And that’s when a new kind of enjoyment begins in the language.

If you have any studio-biographical references for scholars’ and learners’ time and efforts spent among the pages of foreign languages, please share them in the comments.

[1] P. Saffire and C. Freis, Ancient Greek Alive, 3d ed., p. xv.

[2] Letter of April 11, 1908 to his girlfriend Inna, quoted in N.G.D. Malmqvist, Bernhard Karlgren: Portrait of a Scholar, p. 38.

Happy birthday to Lord Byron, student of Armenian   Leave a comment

Today is the birthday of Lord Byron (1788-1824), well-known, of course, as an English poet, but less so as a student of Armenian. Many of us know

She walks in beauty like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes

but far fewer know of his efforts to learn Armenian. I first learned of the latter from a quotation at the beginning of Matthias Bedrossian’s New Dictionary, Armenian-English (Venice, 1875-1879, p. x). But we have more evidence, still directly from Byron himself, in the form of the posthumously appearing Lord Byron’s Armenian Exercises and Poetry (Venice, 1870), including letters, translation from Armenian into English (“to exercise himself in the arm. language”, 21), and a selection of Byron’s poetry with Armenian translation. The Armenian-English translations are from an “Armenian history”, something by Nerses Lambronac’i, and 3 Corinthians. The history is not further identified in the text, but it turns out to be that of Movsēs Xorenac’i, book 1, chs. 8-9, save the last two paragraphs, a discovery relatively easy to make thanks to the TITUS text database. The whole volume is beautifully typeset with Armenian and English pages facing each other.

Byron arrived in Venice in 1816 and found himself impressed with the monastery San Lazzaro degli Armeni “which appears to unite all the advantages of the monastic institution, without any of its vices” (4). There he studied Armenian. From a letter of Dec. 5, 1816 (10-13):

By way of divertisement, I am studying daily, at an Armenian monastery, the Armenian language. I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon; and this — as the most difficult thing I could discover here for an amusement — I have chosen, to torture me into attention. It is a rich language, however, and would amply repay any one the trouble of learning it. I try, and shall go on; — but I answer for nothing, least of all for my intentions or my success. There are some very curious Mss. in the monastery, as well as books; translations also from Greek originals, now lost, and from Persian and Syriac etc.; besides works of their own people.

And in a letter of the previous day (14-17), he says:

I wrote to you at some length last week, and have little to add, except that I have begun, and am proceeding in a study of the Armenian language, which I acquire, as well as I can, at the Armenian convent, where I go every day to take lessons of a learned friar, and have gained some singular and not useless information with regard to the literature and customs of that oriental people. They have an establishment here — a church and convent of ninety monks, very learned and accomplished men, some of them. They have also a press, and make great efforts for the enlightening of their nation. I find the languages (which is twin, the literal and the vulgar) difficult, but not invincible (at least I hope not). I shall go on. I found it necessary to twist my mind round some severer study, and this, as being the hardest I could devise here, will
be a file for the serpent.

So while we may recite some Byron in English today, we can commemorate him, too, by studying Armenian, and by persevering: “I shall go on,” he says, and “I try, and shall go on; — but I answer for nothing, least of all for my intentions or my success.”

Documentary on the Encyclopaedia Iranica and Prof. Yarshater   Leave a comment

A friend of mine shared this documentary from BBC Persian on Prof. Ehsan Yarshater (b. 1920) and the amazing work of the Encyclopaedia Iranica (online here). It’s in Persian, but English subtitles are available. Knowing the background and looking behind the scenes of major research projects such as this — or the CAD, for another example, volumes of which, like the Encyclopaedia Iranica, have also for some time been freely available online  — is not an opportunity to be missed even by those remotely interested in whatever field the project concerns. In this case, the field is the full breadth of Persian history, languages, literatures, and connections with cultures across a long time period. We can be very grateful that the Encyclopaedia is freely accessible online, rather than hidden behind extortionate tomes in perhaps too distant libraries to multitudes of would-be readers, so interested researchers of all kinds have an ever fruitful resource at their fingertips. But even more than on the Encyclopaedia itself, we get to hear firsthand from a hard-working and experienced scholar. Yarshater mentions his studies many years ago with W.B. Henning and Mary Boyce. I always enjoy seeing scholars’ workspaces, and we have that here, too. We hear him using Persian proverbs and reciting some lines of poetry. In his voice and memories we see an inspiring gentleman. These twenty-five minutes, then, will make for worthy time to anyone interested in Persian culture and intellectual biography.

Gallery of scholars   Leave a comment

I’ve just published a gallery of scholars (also available at the top of the page) who have worked in the fields of the languages and literature of eastern Christianity. I’ve not listed scholars who are still living. I’m sure I’ve failed to include some people who should be here, so if you have any suggestions for additions, please let me know. Also, I could find no photograph of Georg Graf, and I would be grateful to anyone who will point me to one.

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