Friday, October 17, 2008
The club's name derives from the Icelandic Kolbítar, a name given to those who stay so close to the fire in winter that they are virtually 'biting the coal'. This was not the first club with a linguistically intriguing name which Tolkien had founded: during his undergraduate days at Exeter College he had founded the 'Apolausticks'from the word apolaustic 'devoted to seeking enjoyment', which, since it is extremely rare, he may well have discovered in the OED.Tolkien started out as a student of the classics, and he also may well have discovered the word in the beginning of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (1.5.1-2, tr. H. Rackham):
On the one hand the generality of men and the most vulgar identify the Good with pleasure, and accordingly are content with the Life of Enjoymentfor there are three specially prominent Lives, the one just mentioned, the Life of Politics, and thirdly, the Life of Contemplation.In the Greek, "are content with the Life of Enjoyment" is τὸν βίον ἀγαπῶσι τὸν ἀπολαυστικόν (ton bion agapōsi ton apolaustikon). The adjective ἀπολαυστικός (apolaustikos) comes from the verb ἀπολαύω (apolauō), defined by Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) as "have enjoyment of a thing, have the benefit of it." The verb ἀπολαύω is a compound, from ἀπό (apo) plus λαύω (lauō), but LSJ note that "The simple λαύω is not found, but was = λάφω, expl. by Aristarch. as ἀπολαυστικῶς ἔχω."
Of the three types of life, the lowest one, the one condemned by Aristotle, the Life of Enjoyment (βίος ἀπολαυστικός, bios apolaustikos), is the one I try to follow. Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), p. 53, describes the meetings of the Apolausticks: "There were papers, discussions, and debates, and there were also large and extravagant dinners." These are all things I enjoy as well, especially the large and extravagant dinners. It sounds like a club worth reviving, like the Diogenes Club, the Three Hours for Lunch Club, and the Ancient Order of Modern Troglodytes.