Corona Diary – Day 100

Wednesday, 24 June

I’m going to “soften” my social isolation now and Day 100 seems like a good point to do it.

It’s not entirely rational as the threat from covid-19 is by no means over but maintaining isolation until (if?) a vaccine is available seems a tough prospect. It will, however, be softening with a small s as I am still going to be very careful, avoiding crowds, generally keeping my distance and wearing my last stand of the Zombies mask but I will at least meet my grandchildren outdoors.

The translation market has shown faint signs of life so I’ve had a bit to do. Otherwise as a major spare time activity, I’ve been reading the Cambridge Companion to the Bible. This not because my rugged materialist philosophy of life is crumbling from fear of the approaching reaper but because an ability to find one’s way around the Bible would be useful when looking at church art, to know better what I was looking at. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, you couldn’t help picking up some information about the book, but it was often of poor quality, disjointed presentations of more spectacular episodes (Samson, Jonas and the whale, Moses in the bullrushes, Noah’s ark and Adam and Eve), which didn’t give much of an idea of the structure of the Bible or any ideas about how the texts had been selected and edited.

The Cambridge Companion is more intended to be dipped into although I read it as a continuous text until I got half way through the various prophets when I got tired. I’ll do the same at a later date for the New Testament but I feel a need now to get back to current reality so I’m tackling Picketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century, which has been sitting on my must-read shelf for a good while.

I’m not discontented with my reading about the Bible, however – it’s given me a slightly better framework for my intended use and the ragbag of associations in my brain is better ordered.

The Bible is a curious book or rather a curious combination of books resulting from Christianity’s only partially successful takeover of the Jewish religion. It’s amusing to think of what could have been the result if Christianity had developed a similar relationship with the old Asa religion instead of supplanting it. Editing the Nordic sagas and combining them with a New Testament to form the basis of a religion would be a challenging occupation (the occasional brutality wouldn’t be too much of a problem as there are some pretty wild episodes in the Old Testament capable of getting God hauled up before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which Christianity takes in its stride). I shall make a note of this as a rainy Sunday activity.

The Bible is also interesting from the point of view of translation as it made its way from Hebrew to Greek and Latin. I was attracted by the word “prophet”, ultimately from the Greek prophetes, an interpreter/spokesman. According to the Online etymology dictionary “The Greek word [prophetes] was used in Septuagint [the translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek] for Hebrew nabj, “soothsayer”. Early Latin writers translated Greek prophetes with Latin vates, but the Latinized form propheta predominated in post-Classical times, chiefly due to Christian writers probably because of pagan associations of vates…The Latin word is glossed in Old English by witga”.

All of these “vit” words go back to Sanskrit (wit, witness, “vidja” (knowledge) in Sanskrit.

Other words I’ve learnt in the past week or so are “tetragram” (four-letter word), “plangent” (loud and resonant noise with a mournful tone) and “prequel” (as the opposite to “sequel”), which makes me feel that I should have known it before but in fact didn’t.

I also have a somewhat clearer idea of the distinction between the figures of speech synedoche (“all hands on deck” where a part represents the whole) and metonymy (“Crown lands” where an associated word is used).  It’s probably not difficult to find examples where the distinction is difficult.

As I am now changing my social isolation, this will be my last Corona Diary blog post but I shall continue my blog “unnumbered”.

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