Moto-Motto

Poem XLIII of Housman’s More Poems (1936) runs like this:

I wake from dreams and turning
My vision on the height
I scan the beacons burning
About the fields of night.

Each in its steadfast station
Inflaming heaven they flare;
They sign with conflagration
The empty moors of air.

The signal-fires of warning
They blaze, but none regard;
And on through night to morning
The world runs ruinward. (MP, XLIII)

In his commentary on the poem, the Housman scholar Archie Burnett traces a parallel with these lines from Lucretius: …multosque per annos | sustenata ruet moles et machina mundi – “…and the mass and fabric of the world, upheld through many years, shall crash into ruins” (De Rerum Natura, V 95-6).

I like the phrase moles et machina mundi, “mass and fabric of the world”, but I didn’t understand the translation fully. I investigated and discovered that the Latin word machina, though taken from Doric Greek μαχανα, makhana, “mechanical device”,* developed an additional meaning of “frame” or “body”. So Latin has deus ex machina, “god from the machine”, with one meaning, and machina mundi, “fabric of the world”, with another.

This seems to make machina a good word to expand the motto of this bijou bloguette. At the moment, the motto is this:

• Mathematica (v) • Magistra (iij) • Mundi (ij) •

That means “Mathematics is Mistress of the World”. Now try this:

• Mathematica (v) • Machina (iij) • Mundi (ij) •

The syllabification doesn’t change, but now I assume that the central word is pleasingly ambiguous and the motto means variously “Mathematics is Mechanism of the World”, the “Fabric of the World”, the “Engine of the World”, the “Body of the World”, and so on.

In addition, all the letters of Machina are found in Mathematica and Mundi, so the words on left and right almost act as a matrix, generating what appears between them.

There are further possibilities, blending magistra and machina:

• Mathematica (v) • Machistra (iij) • Mundi (ij) •

• Mathematica (v) • Magina (iij) • Mundi (ij) •


*In Attic Greek, it’s μηχανη, mēkhanē, whence “mechanical”, etc.

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