[lit-ideas] Re: Sophisticated Latin

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 7 Sep 2015 21:42:53 -0400

In a message dated 9/7/2015 8:20:58 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx writes:
I assume this is the novel "Wake" by Kingsworth. Sounds intriguing.
Think I'll get it.

Indeed, the amazon review reads as per below.

But back to the passage that the subject line refers to:

The reviewer writes:

"The reader also begins to hear the absence of all those missing French
and Latin words, of the spirit of technicality, abstraction, emotional

"missing French and Latin words" is an interesting construction.

Indeed, English is full of doublets: sure and secure: both from Latin, but
one via French.

Of course, the Normans were Latinised, rather than Roman per se. So perhaps
"the reader also begins to hear the absence of all those missing Norman
and Latin words" -- or should it be "Anglo-Norman"?

According to the reviewer, the reader (he means himself) begins to hear the
absence of TWO things, and two COMPLEX things at that:

(a) -- the absence of all those missing Anglo-Norman and Latin proper words
-- or should I say "Latinate"?
(b) -- the absence of the spirit of (i) technicality
---------------------------------------------- (ii) abstraction
---------------------------------------------- (iii) emotional

So the reviewer is NOT relating (a) with (b). I.e. he is not presumptuously
attempting a causal link: as if technicality, abstraction, and emotional
sophistication comes with Roman civilisation, as it were, rather than the
vernacular Anglian dialects.

That would offend King Alfred. King Alfred spent his time, besides being
king (and the subject of a lovely statue in Winchester), trying to educate
the Anglians with Roman civilisation. If he did translate 'word by word',
this seems to be proof that the Anglian dialects (within which I include the
Mercian dialects) allowed for technicality, abstraction, AND emotional
sophistication, provided of course, we do assume, as _I_ do that King Alfred
_was sophisticated.

Believing that without Roman civilisation and wisdom there can be neither
prosperity nor success in war, Alfred aimed "to set to learning (as long as
they are not useful for some other employment) all the free-born men now in
England who have the means to apply themselves to it."

Conscious of the decay of Latin literacy in his realm, Alfred proposed that
primary education be taught in ENGLISH, not Latin, with those wishing to
advance to holy orders to continue their studies in LATIN (as later in
Oxford's Lit. Hum.).

A problem, however, was that there were few "books of wisdom" written in
English. King Alfred sought to remedy this through an ambitious court-centred
programme of translating into English the books he deemed "most necessary
for all Anglian men to know."

It is unknown when Alfred launched this programme, but it may have been
during the 880s when Wessex was enjoying a respite from "savage" Viking

Apart from the lost "Handboc" or "Encheiridion", which seems to have been
a commonplace book kept by the king, the earliest work to be translated was
the "Dialogues" of Gregory.

The translation was undertaken at Alfred's command by Werferth, Bishop of
Worcester, with the king merely furnishing a preface.

Remarkably, Alfred, undoubtedly with the advice and aid of his court
scholars, translated four works himself: Gregory "Care", Boethius's
of Philosophy" (now in the Loeb Classical Library), Augustine's
"Soliloquies" (now in the Loeb Classical Library) and the first fifty psalms
of the

One might add to this list Alfred's translation, in his law code, of
excerpts from the Vulgate Book of Exodus.

The Old English versions of Orosius's Histories against the Pagans and
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (now in the Loeb Classical
Library) are no longer accepted by scholars as Alfred's own translations
because of lexical and stylistic differences.

Nonetheless, the consensus remains that they were part of the Alfredian
programme of translation. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge suggest this also
for Bald's Leechbook and the anonymous Old English Martyrology.

Alfred's first translation was of Gregory's "Care", which he prefaced with
an introduction explaining why he thought it necessary to translate works
such as this one from LATIN into ENGLISH.

Although King Alfred described his method as translating

"sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense,"

Alfred's translation actually keeps very close to his original, although
through his choice of language he blurred throughout the distinction between
spiritual and secular authority.

King Alfred meant his translation to be used and circulated it to all his

Interest in Alfred's translation of "Care" was so enduring that copies were
still being made in the 11th century.

The Italian Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy (written in Latin) was the
most popular philosophical handbook of the Middle Ages.

Unlike his translation of the Gregorio's "Care", King Alfred here deals
very freely with his original and though G. Schepss showed that many of the
additions to the text are to be traced not to King Alfred himself, but to the
glosses and commentaries which he used, still there is much in the work
which is solely Alfred's and highly characteristic of his style.

It is in the Boethius that the oft-quoted sentence occurs:

"My will was to live worthily as long as I lived, and after my life to
leave to them that should come after, my memory in good works."

The book has come down to us in two manuscripts only. In one of these the
writing is prose, in the othe a combination of prose and alliterating verse.

The latter manuscript was severely damaged in the 18th and 19th centuries,
and the authorship of the verse has been much disputed; but likely it also
is by Alfred.

In fact, he writes in the prelude that he first created a prose work and
then used it as the basis for his poem Metres of Boethius.

King Alfred spent a great deal of time working on these books, which he
tells us he gradually wrote through the many stressful times of his reign to
refresh his mind.

Of the authenticity of the work as a whole, there seems to be little doubt.

The last of Alfred's works is one to which he gave the name Blostman, i.e.,
"Blooms" or Anthology.

The first half is based mainly on the "Soliloquies" of Augustine of Hippo,
the remainder is drawn from various sources, and contains much that is
Alfred's own and highly characteristic of him.

The last words of it may be quoted; they form a fitting epitaph for the
noblest of English kings.

"Therefore he seems to me a very foolish man, and truly wretched, who will
not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and
long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear".

Incidentally, King Alfred appears as a character in the twelfth- or
thirteenth-century poem "The Owl and the Nightingale", where his wisdom and
with proverbs is praised.

The Proverbs of Alfred, a thirteenth-century work, contains sayings that
are not likely to have originated with Alfred but attest to his posthumous
medieval reputation for wisdom).[

Historian Richard Abels sees Alfred's educational and military reforms as

Restoring learning in Wessex, Abels contends, was to Alfred's mind as
essential to the defence of his realm as the building of the burhs.

As Alfred observed in the preface to his English translation of Gregory's
"Care", kings who fail to obey their divine duty to promote learning can
expect earthly punishments to befall their people.

The pursuit of wisdom, he assured his readers of the Boethius, was the
surest path to power: "Study Wisdom, then, and, when you have learned it,
condemn it not, for I tell you that by its means you may without fail attain to

power, yea, even though not desiring it".

The portrayal of the West-Saxon resistance to the Vikings by Asser and the
chronicler as a Christian holy war was more than mere rhetoric or

It reflected Alfred's own belief in a doctrine of divine rewards and
punishments rooted in a vision of a hierarchical Christian world order in which

God is the Lord to whom kings owe obedience and through whom they derive
their authority over their followers.

The need to persuade his nobles to undertake work for the 'common good' led
King Alfred and his court scholars to strengthen and deepen the conception
of Christian kingship that he had inherited by building upon the legacy of
earlier kings such as Offa as well as clerical writers such as Bede,
Alcuin and the other luminaries of the Carolingian renaissance.

This was not a cynical use of religion to manipulate his subjects into
obedience, but an intrinsic element in Alfred's worldview.

King Alfred believed, as did other kings in ninth-century England and
Francia, that God had entrusted him with the spiritual as well as physical
welfare of his people.

If the Christian faith fell into ruin in his kingdom, if the clergy were
too ignorant to understand the Latin words they butchered in their offices
and liturgies, if the ancient monasteries and collegiate churches lay
deserted out of indifference, he was answerable before God, as Josiah had

Alfred's ultimate responsibility was the pastoral care of his people.

And we trust technicality, abstraction, and hopefully emotional
sophistication came with it!





See i had cnawan yfel was cuman when i seen this fugol glidan ofer.

the water of the fenn [...] with all bright and hued wyrmfleoges and all
the heofon writhan with lif and with the risan sunne on the nebb of the

They tacs our names our names they tacs our tales our songs. i was grown
from this ground the ground they has tacan my ground from me all that i is
they tacs all.

-- "The reader also begins to hear the absence of all those missing French
and Latin words, of the spirit of technicality, abstraction, emotional


'A literary triumph'
-- Adam Thorpe

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'A resonant, eloquent ballad of English identity, pride and fierce
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