Monday, August 22, 2005



Sylvain Sauvage, 1888-1948, was a French book illustrator. His parents, wittingly or not, gave him a very interesting name. Both Sylvain and Sauvage are derived from Latin silva (forest). Sylvain comes from Silvanus, a deity presiding over woods. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces the history of savage and sauvage thus:
c.1300, "wild, undomesticated, untamed" (of animals and places), from O.Fr. sauvage, salvage "wild, savage, untamed," from L.L. salvaticus, alteration of silvaticus "wild," lit. "of the woods," from silva "forest, grove."
Google gives examples of similar names, e.g. Sylvia Savage and Sylvie Sauvage.

The title of this blog post uses silva in a slightly different sense, meaning a miscellany or hodge-podge. The use of silva as a title has the sanction of ancient tradition. Suetonius, De Grammaticis 24.5 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, on Marcus Valerius Probus), says:
He published a few slight works on divers minute points, and also left a good sized "Grove of Observations on our Early Language."

nimis pauca et exigua de quibusdam minutis quaestiunculis edidit; reliquit autem non mediocrem silvam observationum sermonis antiqui.
On the Greek equivalent of silva (hyle) as a book title see Suetonius, De Grammaticis 10.4-5 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, on Lucius Ateius Philologus):
He seems to have assumed the title Philologus, because like Eratosthenes, who was first to lay claim to that surname, he regarded himself as a man of wide and varied learning. And that he was such is evident from his commentaries, though very few of them survive; but he gives some idea of their number in a second letter to the aforesaid Hermas: "Remember to recommend my Hyle to others; as you know, it consists of material of every kind, collected in eight hundred books."

Philologi appellationem assumpsisse videtur quia sicut Eratosthenes, qui primus hoc cognomen sibi vindicavit, multiplici variaque doctrina censebatur. Quod sane ex commentariis eius apparet, quanquam paucissimi exstent; de quorum tamen copia sic altera ad eundem Hermam epistula significat: "Hylen nostram aliis memento commendare, quam omnis generis coegimus, uti scis, octingentos in libros."
Quintilian (10.3.17, tr. H.E. Butler) also seems to recognize silva as a book title:
On the other hand, there is a fault which is precisely the opposite of this, into which those fall who insist on first making a rapid draft of their subject with the utmost speed of which their pen is capable, and write in the heat and impulse of the moment. They call this their rough copy [silvam].

diversum est huic eorum vitium qui primo decurrere per materiam stilo quam velocissimo volunt, et sequentes calorem atque impetum ex tempore scribunt: hanc silvam vocant.
Silva was the inspiration for the title of Ben Jonson's posthumously published Timber: or, Discoveries; made upon men and matter: as they have flowed out of his daily readings; or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of the times. Jonson explained his title in a Latin note, which I have translated as follows:
Forest of objects and opinions, called hyle, as it were, from the manifold matter and variety contained herein. For as we commonly call a countless crowd of trees growing at random a forest, so also the ancients used to call Forests (Timber-trees) those books in which little treatises on various and diverse subjects had been heaped haphazardly together.

Sylva rerum et sententiarum quasi Ὓλη dicta a multiplici materia et varietate in iis contenta. Quemadmodum enim vulgo solemus infinitam arborum nascentium indiscriminatim multitudinem Sylvam dicere: ita etiam libros suos in quibus variae et diversae materiae opuscula temere congesta erant, Sylvas appellabant antiqui: Timber-trees.
If Marcus Valerius Probus, Lucius Ateius Philologus, or Ben Jonson were alive today, perhaps they would be publishing their lucubrations in blogs entitled Silva Observationum Sermonis Antiqui, Hyle, or Timber.

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