[lit-ideas] The Diary of a Dromedarist

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2007 14:33:33 EST

The Unnatural History of the Dromedary
                     by Maj. H. R. P. Johnson-Laird Woodfield,
                                   F. R. S., El-Cairo
                                                 For "Notes and Queries"
Query: Is a Dromedary a Camel? (Is: The Antihumanism of Analytic  Philosophy).
That was a very good query, Mr. Helm. 
["An Englishman undertook a study of the
camel. Taking his tea basket  and a good deal of camping equipment,
went to set up camp in the Orient,  returning after a sojourn of two or three
years with a fat volume, full of  raw, disorganized, and inconclusive facts
which, nevertheless, had real  documentary value."]
But of course readers of Notes and Queries will want to know more. I was 
indeed surprised to read in Aristotle's De Motu Animaliu how  extravagant
observations he derived from mostly Egyptian animals. 
Thus, the Philosopher thought that the ostrich was more of 'mammal' than of  
the genus _avis_, and did not
hesitate to place cetacea under the genus _pesces_. 

But while I  looked and looked, I found no references to the dromedary. 
From Short and Lewis we learn that 'dromedarius' is indeed short for  
'camelus dromedarius', and yes, Mr. Helm, then the dromedary _is_ a kind
of camel. What may interest Mr. Geary perhaps more is that the history of  
the dromedary is an unnatural one. In short, the dromedary is a camel reared 
 trained to 'run' (Gk. dromein, run). 
While the Greeks knew their i from their horses, we must recognise the  
importance of the Bible here. 
<NOBR>In the New Testament, Saint Matthew mentions the camel, not the  
dromedaryLindisfarne Gloss, which
Professor Skeat dates as 950 A.D., we find for Matt. iii. 4:
    "Gewede of herum æra camella olbendena herum"
And indeed, it is in this sense that Shakespeare pokes fun of our Richard  
"It is as hard to come, as for a Camell To thred the  posterne of a Needles 
                                                    Rich II v v 16
What perhaps fewer of our readers will know is that our beast, the  
dromedary, is also mentioned in the Holy Book -- this time in the Old Testament 
Isaiah, lx, 6, and indeed the reference is to the army of David, made up of  
My research has led me to believe that what we have in Isaiah is the  camelus 
dromedarius arabicus, the one-humped camel familiar to any visitor
to Regent's Zoological Society gardens. However, and we have an early  
reference for this, the camelus bactrianus can _also_ be 'improved' into a  
Thus, K. Alis in his 1300,  p. 3407 reads:
"Olifans and camailes, Dromedaries."
From then on, the history of the 'dromedary' seems as unnatural as the  
history of the dromedary. It seems that Englishmen have had a serious
problem on how to _spell_ the beast. Allow me to share my philological  
researches with you:
1400 Destr.  Troy 6207 
Two dromondarys drowe hit [a chariot], dressit erfore. 
This is interesting above, as a reference to Achilles. 
1400 tr. Secreta Secret.,  Gov. Lordsh. (E.E.T.S.) 111 
Right swyft as dromyders. 
1425 Voc. in Wr.-Wülcker 638 
Hic dromedarius, a drowmondere. 
1500 Melusine xxxvi. 274 
Thenne came a trucheman mounted vpon a dromadary. 
1570  LEVINS Manip. 104 
A Drumbledary, dromedarius.  

1596 SPENSER F.Q. IV. viii. 38 
Ryding upon a Dromedare on hie, Of stature  huge, and horrible of hew. 
1632 LITHGOW Trav. VI. 298 
A Dromidore, and Camel differ much in quality,  but not in quantity, being of 
one height, bredth, and length..the  Dromidory..will ride above 80 miles in 
the day. 
1708 MOTTEUX Rabelais IV. lxv, 
The Camels and Dromedaries of a Caravan. 
1839 THIRLWALL Greece VI. lii. 271 Mounted on  dromedaries, they crossed the 
1849 LANE Mod. Egypt. II. ix. 135  Mohhammad Ibn Kamil the Dromedarist. 
One is especially amused by the spelling 'drumbledary', but I've seen  worse. 
Cheers to all!
     J. L. Speranza
        Buenos Aires, Argentina

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