[lit-ideas] Re: Conan, The Barbarian (Was: Ossian

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2007 18:32:19 -0700

I wrote
>A barbarian was originally simply a non-Greek, so-called because >of his unintelligible speech: barbarbarbar...and so on. >'Barbarian' was originally neutral

JL answered

I would be cautious there. Do you think it can possibly be (in Greek at least) a neutral value-oriented expression?

Does this mean 'a neutral, purely descriptive expression,' or 'neutral, not value-laden expression'? (I'm taking this as pretty much the same.)

If it means that, then yes, it—barbaros—sems to have been a neutral description of non-Greeks. A 'value-oriented' or 'value-laden' meaning would be something like 'uncultured roughneck.'

(I'm using the turn of phrase, "value-oriented" in the precise use of Grice, in "Reply to Richards"). I should consult the Liddell-Scott for early recorded uses of 'barbaros'.

Here is what the Intermediate Liddell-Scott says

I. barbarous, i. e. not Greek, foreign, known to Hom[er]., as appears from the word barbarophônos in Il.:--as Subst. barbaroi, hoi, originally all that were not Greeks, specially the Medes and Persians, [Herodotus]., attic: so the Hebrews called the rest of mankind Gentiles. From the Augustan age however the name was given by the Romans to all tribes which had no Greek or Roman accomplishments.

II. after the Persian war the word took the sense of outlandish, amathês kai barbaros Ar.; barbarôtatos id=Ar., [Thucydides].

The typical Gricean scenario I can think of (for this Grecian context) would be: 1. Communication between human beings is a valuable thing.
2. These people before me say, 'barbarbarbar"
3. That is, to me, unintelligible.
4. And that in the strong _sense_ that it is not possible (conceivable) that I will understand him (let's singularize the 'barbarian', and call him, to please Ritchie, "Conan".
[5?]. Yet, I'm calling him "Gobbledee-Gook" in a totally neutral fashion.

It seems to me that from 'x is unintelligible to me'; nothing whatsoever follows about whether x is unintelligible tout court.

Wikipedia has [usual caveats] an entry at


Yours faithfully,

Robert Paul
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: