Monday, February 27, 2006


Enemies of Ancient Languages

I used to think that the authors, as well as the titles, of the books in the catalogue of the Library of Saint Victor (Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, book II, chapter VII) were fictitious. But now I learn from M.A. Screech, Rabelais (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), p. 44, that I was wrong. The titles are made up, but at least some of the authors were real people, which adds to the humor. For example, the Ars honeste petandi in societate (The Art of Farting Politely in Public) is attributed "per M. Ortuinum." According to Screech, this is "an allusion to a theologian in Cologne widely mocked for his hostility to Reuchlin and Jewish studies generally," viz. Ortuinus Gratius (1491-1542), aka Ortwin or Ortuin or Hardouin, from Graes or Graetz. The mocking occurred in the satirical Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, ostensibly addressed to Ortwin. Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) taught Hebrew at the universities of Ingolstadt and Tübingen.

Those opposed to the Hebraica veritas also objected to Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament (1516). An excellent treatment of this subject is the first chapter (Learning Greek is heresy! Resisting Erasmus) of Simon Goldhill, Who Needs Greek? Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), who quotes a letter of Thomas More concerning a gang (named the Trojans) opposed to the study of Greek at Oxford (p. 39):
Their senior sage christened himself Priam; others called themselves Hector, Paris and so forth. The idea, whether as a joke or a piece of anti-academic politics, is to pour ridicule on those devoted to the study of Greek.
There were obscurantists at Cambridge as well, who wanted to ban Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testment, as Erasmus himself reports in a letter to Henry Bullock (August, 1516, quoted in Goldhill, p. 29):
I have heard from trustworthy witnesses that you have one college, steeped in theology, whose members are regular Areopagites and who are said to have provided by solemn resolution that no man bring the said volume by horse, boat, wagon, or porter within the curteledge of said college. I ask you, my learned friend, should one laugh or cry? How their zeal has led them astray!

Early American poet John Trumbull (1750-1831), in his The Progress of Dulness, part I (The Adventures of Tom Brainless), criticized the study of Greek and Latin:
Say ye, who bear the name of wise,
Wherein substantial learning lies.
Is it, superb in classic lore,
To speak what Homer spoke before,
To write the language Tully wrote,
The style, the cadence and the note?
Is there a charm in sounds of Greek,
No language else can learn to speak;
That cures distemper'd brains at once,
Like Pliny's rhymes for broken bones?
Is there a spirit found in Latin,
That must evap'rate in translating?
And say are sense and genius bound
To any vehicles of sound?
Can knowledge never reach the brains,
Unless conveyed in ancient strains?
While Homer sets before your eyes
Achilles' rage, Ulysses' lies,
Th' amours of Jove in masquerade,
And Mars entrapp'd by Phoebus' aid;
While Virgil sings, in verses grave,
His lovers meeting in a cave,
His ships turn'd nymphs, in pagan fables,
And how the Trojans eat their tables;
While half this learning but displays
The follies of the former days;
And for the linguists, fairly try them,
A tutor'd parrot might defy them.

The original of the following true story by a Catholic choir director has disappeared from the World Wide Web, but survives in a copy:
There in the sacristy was my "boss" the Liturgy Co-Ordinator/Pastoral Minister and her buddy the Senior Citizen Ministry Director. There's nothing odd about seeing them in the sacristy, what was odd was that they were RIPPING PAGES OUT OF A HYMNAL AND THROWING THEM INTO A LARGE GARBAGE CAN! The looks on their faces were priceless. They were terrified (I'm 6'6 and have been told I'm scary looking). They explained that they thought I had left and that they were just ripping out the songs they didn't want me to use anymore.

Now for those of you not familiar with the Pius X Hymnal, it has a good selection of English hymns as well as the normal Latin. As I reached into the garbage can and picked out the pages (luckily they'd only ripped pages out of 4 hymnals by the time I got there), I found that they were leaving all the English hymns (unless they had Latin on the back side of them) and were ripping out all the Latin.

When I asked them why they were doing this, they explained that they "didn't want me doing the Latin anymore" and that we had to "get the kids into the pews!"

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