Wednesday, December 01, 2021


My Scraps and Rags of Greek

John Jay Chapman, letter to Leonard L. Mackall (January 20, 1924), in "A Sampling of Letters and Obiter Dicta," Arion 2.2/3 (Spring, 1992 - Fall, 1993) 33-65 (at 42-43):
I shall let these heathen rage furiously and imagine a vain thing, and meantime I have been keeping up my scraps and rags of Greek — which I have on ice for the last stage of slippered pantaloon. The consolation is that nobody knows Greek. Those who devote their entire time to it have a further insight — no doubt than the triflers like myself. But they get entrapped in grammatical and psychological questions. It's a grand fairy land. Homer is the easiest — and yet you will find that no one knows the exact meaning of any word in Homer — e.g., Here's a word that means either "very early in the morning" or else "raise high in air." So all the words — and most picturesque they are — describing effects of light or sound mean — darkly gleaming, or brightly blazing, a flame or a spark — or O hang it — something about fire and brightness — plain enough. They are only explained by each other — and occur nowhere else than in Homer, so you must read the whole Iliad for a hint on any one of them. So of the word expressing irritation, wrath, rage, annoyance. It's perfectly plain that some fellow is displeased — but just to what extent nobody knows. That's the charm of Homer. The classic Greeks didn't understand exactly and often made up sham Homeric words to suit the text (as they thought). But I get more out of him every time I read — the fluency and enormousness being the main point and in the later cantos the tragic glory. I don't want to let go of it, and whenever there's a lull in my occupations or I feel désoeuvré, I plunge for a week or a day....
Psalms 2.1 (KJV):
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
William Shakespeare, As You Like It 2.7.157-158:
The sixth age shifts / Into the lean and slippered pantaloon...
Greek ἠέριος = with early morn, or high in air.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

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