Sunday, February 27, 2005


Whence and Whither?

In The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman (1823–1893) mentions with some irritation the curiosity of fellow travelers on the Great Plains:
They demanded our names, whence we came, whither we were going, and what was our business. The last query was particularly embarrassing; since traveling in that country, or indeed anywhere, from any other motive than gain, was an idea of which they took no cognizance. (Chapter VIII)

"How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?" said a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his head. (Chapter XXVI)
From time immemorial strangers and wanderers have faced these same questions. In Homer's Odyssey, the following line occurs several times, first at 1.170 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
What man are you, and whence? Where is your city? Your parents?
In Rome even friends asked some of these same questions when meeting:

Phil Flemming (via email) writes:
Socrates begins his conversation with Phaedrus by asking poi de kai pothen? It's a kind of scold, isn't it? Pretending to greet Phaedrus as someone who been away on a great voyage, he's really asking, where have you been hiding yourself, Phaedrus? And why have you become a stranger?
R. Hackforth translates this passage (Plato, Phaedrus 227a) as follows:
Where are you coming from, Phaedrus my friend, and where are you going?

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