Saturday, August 21, 2004


Historia Bush

Historia Augusta is the name given by Isaac Casaubon to a pseudonymous compilation of biographies of Roman emperors who reigned from 117 to 284 A.D. Marguerite Yourcenar in her essay "Faces of History in the Historia Augusta" writes:
The evils by which a civilization dies are more specific, more complex, more deliberate, sometimes, more difficult to discover or to define. But we have learned to recognize that gigantism which is merely the morbid mimetism of growth, that waste which makes a pretense of wealth in states already bankrupt, that plethora so quickly replaced by dearth at the first crisis, those entertainments for the people provided from the upper levels of the hierarchy, that atmosphere of inertia and panic, of authoritarianism and of anarchy, those pompous reaffirmations of a great past amid present mediocrity and immediate disorder, those reforms which are merely palliatives and those outbursts of virtue which are manifested only by purges, those unacknowledged men of genius lost in the crowd of unscrupulous gangsters, of violent lunatics, of honest men who are inept and wise men who are helpless. The modern reader is at home in the Historia Augusta.
Taking as his starting point this quotation from Marguerite Yourcenar, Michael Doliner finds evidence of most of these ills (gigantism, waste, panic, authoritarianism, mediocrity, purges, gangsters, etc.) in the George W. Bush presidency, in a recent article entitled Historia Bush.

Humanist scholars were fond of inventing classical appellations for themselves. Thus Luther's friend Philipp Schwarzerd (1497-1560) called himself Melanchthon, since German schwarz (black) is Greek melas (genitive melanos, cf. English melanin, melancholy) and German Erde (earth) is Greek chthon. Adapting this custom we could perhaps devise the following Latin moniker for George Walker Bush -- Agricola Ambulator Arbuscula. Triple A instead of Dubya, for the president whose fondness for inventing nicknames for others is well known. George comes from the Greek georgos (farmer), whose Latin equivalent is agricola. Walker in Latin is ambulator (cf. English perambulate), and a Latin word for shrub or bush is arbuscula.

I can't find offhand a Latin adjective meaning shrub-like, but arbusculanus seems like it might do the trick (cf. Africanus from Africa). Then, instead of the hybrid Latin/English title Historia Bush, we could rename Doliner's article Historia Arbusculana.

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