Roaming with and without St Jerome

India, day 19, 10 January 2023

The last few days I’ve mostly spent reading apart from a very pleasant picnic, my first Bengali picnic, where we ate hot food (temperature wise). I read recently that the Portuguese introduced chili to India, its origins being given as Mexico (among other places in the Americas). I wonder what Bengali food was like before the introduction of chili, an important ingredient now, which I’ve become rather used to.

I decided to concentrate for a week or so on reading more about St Jerome and try to move that project forward. I’ve re-read most of Kelly’s biography and found what looks like a very interesting book on Jerome and the Renaissance, which I hope will shed light on the many paintings of the saint in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

It’s also provided me a small haul of new and half familiar words (also from some other sources).

I’ve come across “parturition” (childbirth) and “encomiastic” (an adjective formally expressing pride) but they weren’t part of my active vocabulary but “paratactic” (describing a style of writing in which sentences or elements of sentences are set out successively with no indication of relationship), “tropology” (figurative language) and “passerine” (related to birds that perch) were all new. “Paratactic” cropped up when reading about translating from Hebrew as (according to Kelly), it is a paratactic language which can make for awkward reading in a literal translation. There are also “syntaxis” and “hypotaxis” (when some elements of the sentence are more important than others.

From a recent Times Literary Supplement, I’ve also learned “gustatory” (concerned with taste).

And some words that excited my interest in etymology; “ramshackle” meaning disorderly which is an altered form of the obsolete “ransackled”, ransacked, which apparently originates from the Old Norse “rann” meaning house + search. And “fornication” which has its origins in the Latin “fornix” for arch, the explanation being that prostitutes sometimes stood in arches while soliciting customers. It’s apparently from Late Latin, i.e. mediaeval Latin and I’m not therefore sure whether the prostitutes in question were Roman or mediaeval.

I’ve struggled to get a grip on Jerome’s various translations to avoid confusing the Greek Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament by 70 or 72 translators (if you prefer having six translators each from the 12 tribes of Israel) who miraculously produced identical translations, with the Vulgate or other translations.

Unfortunately, the various copies of the translation from Hebrew to Greek (and later to Latin) were far from identical in Jerome’s time and he eventually took on the enormous task of producing a new translation of much of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew into Latin, which eventually became the standard translation for the Catholic church. But much of the initial reaction to his labours, first to revise the existing Latin translation and then to begin afresh, was negative as it was regarded as tinkering with the word of God. Jerome wasn’t always diplomatic with his critics, referring to them as two-legged asses on one occasion.

I shall continue on this track for a couple of days as well as reading about Puri in the neighbouring state of Odisha where I’ll stay for four days next week. So far I know that 93 per cent of the population are Hindus, that there are many interesting temples there, especially in the state capital Bhubaneswar, that the language spoken there is called Odia and that in colonial times, the state was called Orissa. The colonial name stirs vague memories of my stamp collection from long ago; presumably the patchwork of arrangements of rule, direct and indirect, during the colonial period was reflected in stamp issues. Not so long ago I got hold of a copy of a Stanley Gibbons catalogue and was fascinated by recognising stamps that I hadn’t seen for over 60 years but where the visual memory was tucked away in some nook or cranny of my brain.

In my moments of rest from reading about translation in the days of yore, I’ve indulged in idle surfing, checking Baltimore, place of publication of one of my Jerome sources. Apparently named after an English aristocrat named Baltimore, it became a place of refuge for Catholics. I can’t remember the track I took but it led to me to St Giles Palladian church in Holborn, which I realise I’ve never looked at despite nearby Charing Cross Road being very much part of my London and working for over a year in Carlisle St off Soho Square. I read about St Giles the Hermit and Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire, a place I want to go to as the poet Milton’s house is there. And later reading about Cornish, which led me to the Scilly Islands, where I’ve never been but would also like to go. The January temperature seems very mild there so perhaps that’s a possible venue for escaping the Swedish winter and satisfying my need to tend to my Englishness, although it’s off every conceivable beaten track and I suspect the winter ferry ride from Penzance might have to be endured rather than enjoyed.

I’ve meant to keep a record of where such relaxed surfing leads me. But like a record of dreams, this remains at the vision stage. Perhaps I could interest my AI friend Alexa in this project – she would probably find it a stimulating change from my repeated requests to know which day it is (she does a great job of rescuing me from extremes of chronological anarchy).

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