Saturday, January 12, 2008

χιλιοι γλωσσων

I was quite unaware that my blog had been garnering any attention from other language bloggers, though quite happy to have links from Mark Dingemanse and Lameen Souag - whose specialties are not far from my own (if I can even claim a specialty - dilettante that I am). When I found out however that Language Hat had also picked up on my random writings, I was quite surprised, and then even concerned at the scrutiny that my pastiche of a title was being subjected to - admittedly I may not have been thinking in a very rigorous grammatical sense when I wrote it, but rather the intertexts which the phraseology may suggest. Because of this I do still stand by χιλιοι γλωσσων as the Greek version of my title, despite the helpful suggestions that χιλιαι γλωσσων, χιλιαι γλωσσαι or χιλιος γλωσσων might be better.
I chose the trilingual title because each of the phrases echoed something which I wanted to invoke in this blog... obviously the arabic الف لسان (alf lisan - I only used "elf" in the URL because I thought it looked better than "alf" - a terrible TV show) echoes الف ليلة و ليلة (alf layla wa layla - a thousand and one nights)

يا ملك الزمان وفريد العصر والأوان أني جاريتك ولي ألف ليلة وليلة وأنا أحدثك بحديث تمني يا شهرزاد فصاحت على الدادات والطواشية

O king of time and peerless one of all ages and epochs, I have been near to you for a thousand nights and a night, while I told you tales “To your heart’s content, o Shehrazad” [The King said] and she waxed eloquent to the wet-nurses and the eunuchs…

(certainly the authenticity of the thousand and one nights is suspect as an Arabic collection, but it is, for better or for worse, how early modern Europe was re-introduced to the Arabic-speaking world.)
I think it also evokes the early arabic poetic form of the الفيّة (alfiyya) - a wonderful example of which Lameen comments on here.
With French I thought mille langues echoed mille-feuille, the multi-layered dessert whose sumptuousness merits mention, as we don't use our tongues exclusively for talking - and I had to put in some language with a romance script.
ِThe Greek was actually taken from the Koiné New Testament, a reference which I thought would be more obvious when I wrote "tithe of the myriad manners of expression," since the word tithe (i.e. a donation of one-tenth of one's income) is not really used widely today except in churches, and myriad is obviously from μυριος. This specific pair of words does not occur together, admittedly, but it echoes this passage in the αποκαλυψις (which I consider a pretty nice picture of heaven):
Μετὰ ταῦτα εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὄχλος πολύς, ὃν ἀριθμῆσαι αὐτὸν οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο, ἐκ παντὸς ἔθνους καὶ φυλῶν καὶ λαῶν καὶ γλωσσῶν, ἑστῶτες ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου, περιβεβλημένους στολὰς λευκάς, καὶ φοίνικες ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτῶν·
[After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could number, out of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palms in their hands. - Revelations 7:9]

...and since I wanted to get "thousand" in their somehow, for consistency's sake, I had to replace οχλος with something used similarly, and χιλιοι echoed the τετρακισχιλιοι and πεντακισχιλιοι, who are mentioned elsewhere in the NT - I thought that would be more interesting to paste the two together and keep the intertextual continuity, rather than the internal consistency of the grammar, which I don't think is wrong, but it is certainly not the best way of expressing it in Greek, barring all other considerations.
I do appreciate the attention, and I hope that I can prove in a future post that I am not entirely a slouch when it comes to classical and medieval Greek, but for now I leave you with my favorite quote from the Odyssey, which actually has come in handy as a form of literary self-defense in my travels:

“Αντίνο', ου μὲν καλὰ καὶ εσθλὸς εὼν αγορεύεις:
τίς γὰρ δὴ ξεινον καλει άλλοθεν αυτὸς επελθὼν
άλλον γ', ει μὴ των οὶ δημιοεργοὶ έασι,
μάντιν ὴ ιητηρα κακων ὴ τέκτονα δούρων,
ὴ καὶ θέσπιν αοιδόν, ό κεν τέρπησιν αείδων;
ουτοι γὰρ κλητοί γε βροτων επ' απείρονα γαιαν.
πτωχὸν δ' ουκ αν τις καλέοι τρύξοντα ὲαυτόν .”

“Antinous, no fair words are these thou speakest, noble though thou art.
Who, pray, of himself ever seeks out and bids a stranger from abroad,
unless it be one of those that are masters of some public craft,
a prophet, or a healer of ills, or a builder, aye,
Or a divine minstrel, who gives delight with his song?
For these men are bidden all over the boundless earth;
But no one is likely to ask a beggar who will only worry him.”
-Eumaios, Odyssey17.381-387 (transl. A.T. Murray, Loeb Edition)

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