Saturday, July 19, 2008


Fere and Mate

Yesterday I quoted the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. companion:
1297, from O.Fr. compaignon "fellow, mate," from L.L. companionem (nom. companio), lit. "bread fellow, messmate," from L. com- "with" + panis "bread." Found first in 6c. Frankish Lex Salica, and probably a translation of a Gmc. word (cf. Gothic gahlaiba "messmate," from hlaib "loaf of bread"). Replaced O.E. gefera "traveling companion," from faran "go, fare."
After reading that, I wondered whether English fere was related to gefera, and so it is. I knew the obsolete word fere from Ezra Pound's Ballad of the Goodly Fere, where the goodly fere is Jesus Christ. Pound prefaces his poem with the words "Simon Zelotes speaketh it somewhile after the Crucifixion," and he offers the gloss "Fere = Mate, Companion." I love Pound's poem, which ends:
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha' slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha' seen him eat o' the honey-comb
Sin' they nailed him to the tree.
The element ge- in gefera means "together, with" and is cognate with the com- in companion: see Calvert Watkins, Indo-European Roots, s.v. kom. In the transition from gefera to fere, ge- disappeared by aphesis (the loss of an initial, usually unstressed syllable). The loss of the same initial, unstressed syllable occurred in the history of the English word mate. See the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. mate:
"companion, associate, fellow, comrade," c.1380, from M.L.G. mate, gemate "one eating at the same table, messmate," from P.Gmc. *ga-maton "having food (*matiz) together (*ga-)," which is etymologically identical with companion (q.v.).
Meat can mean food in general, not just animal flesh.

D.H. Green, Language and History in the Early Germanic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 194, has some illuminating remarks on companion and mate:
Our last military example is of quite a different kind, for it represents not a loanword into Latin as hitherto, but a loan-translation. Lat, companio is attested in all the western Romance languages (originally in the sense of 'comrade' in the language of the army). Its formation (collective prefix cum + stem meaning 'loaf' + personal ending) suggests a meaning 'someone with whom one shares a loaf', which corresponds to Germanic terms with the same meaning and a comparable formation (collective prefix ga + stem meaning 'loaf' + personal ending), as in Go. gahláiba and OHG gileibo. If we accept a causal connection between these closely similar Latin and German forms it is possible that the impetus came from Germanic. Latin may have other personal compounds with con- (coniux, consors), but they are not -n- stems, as companio is, whilst on the Germanic side Gothic alone has five such examples (e.g. gadáila 'participant'). This still makes it difficult, in view of the wide spread of the Romance examples of companio, to decide whether the word was borrowed from Germanic in the imperial period or only later in the context of the Frankish army. What might settle the issue in favour of the former is the presence of a Latin formation with con- which is an -n stem, namely concibo in a similar sense 'someone with whom food is shared' and likewise a term of soldier's Latin (it is found on a Roman soldier's gravestone from North Africa). Like companio, it also has a parallel in Germanic from which it was probably derived: WG gimato, OHG gimazzo 'table-companion', cf. English 'mate' (all formed with the word for 'meat, food'). These two Latin nouns were probably introduced into imperial Latin as technical terms of an army now based on growing numbers of German mercenaries.
The Roman soldier's gravestone from North Africa is Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VIII.9060:
D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum). Titulus Itamoris Ituueri (?) ex p(rouincia) G(ermania) S(uperiore) n(umeri) Melenuens(ium) st(ipendiorum?) XIII. concibones f(ecerunt) et d(e)d(icauerunt).
I quote the inscription from J.N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 279, who emphasizes, "What stands out here is that the referent is a German."

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?