Noise from Nowhere

• Es war, als ob er irgendwohin horchte, auf irgend ein unheimliches Geräusch. — Thomas Mann, Der kleine Herr Friedemann (1897).

   • He seemed somehow to be listening, listening to some uncanny noise from nowhere. — Thomas Mann, “Little Herr Friedemann” (translated by David Luke).

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Bestia Bestialissima

Auberon Waugh called himself a “practitioner of the vituperative arts”. Perhaps it was a Catholic thing. And unless you know Latin, you won’t understand. Or you won’t understand as much as you might. I don’t know Latin well, but I can appreciate some of the wonderful vituperation in a book of Latin exorcisms I’ve found scanned at Google Books. The title alone is good: Flagellum Daemonum: Exorcismos Terribiles, Potentissimos et Efficaces, which means (I think) The Flail of Demons: Exorcisms Terrible, Most Potent and Effective. Or is the title Fustis Daemonum: Adiurationes Formidabiles, Potentissimas et Efficaces, meaning The Cudgel of Demons: Adjurations Formidable, Most Potent and Effective?

Vituperation from the Flagellum Daemonum (1644)

Vituperation from the Flagellum Daemonum (1644)


Either way, one of the exorcisms contains a good list of curses directed at the Devil. He’s called Bestia Omnium Bestiarum Bestialissima, meaning “Beast of All Beasts the Most Beastly”. Beside that, there are Dux Hæreticorum and Lupus Rapacissimus, “Duke of Heretics” and “Most Rapacious Wolf”. There’s an odd Sus Macra, Famelica, et Immundissima, which means something like “Scrawny, Famished and Most Filthy Hog”. Lovecraft would have liked Nefandissimus Susurrator, “Most Unspeakable Whisperer”, and Draco Iniquissimus, “Most Iniquitous Dragon”.

Pessimus Dux Tenebrarum is “Most Evil Duke of Darkness” and Janua et Vorago Inferni is “Door and Abyss of Hell”. Seminator Zizaniarum, meaning “Sower of Tares”, refers to Matthew xiii, 25: “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.” And those are only a few of the curses poured on the Devil’s head. I’ve turned the full list into plain text. As it says in the book that originally led me to the Flagellum Daemonum, “The following is a specimen of one of these vituperative addresses”:

Audi igitur insensate, false, reprobe, et iniquissime Spiritus. Inimice fidei. Adversarie generis humani. Mortis adductor. Vitæ raptor. Justitiæ declinator. Malorum radix. Fomes vitiorum. Seductor hominum. Proditor gentium. Incitator invidiæ. Origo aravitiæ. Causa discordiæ. Excitator malorum. Dæmonum magister. Miserrima Creature. Tentator Homininum. Deceptor malorum Angelorum. Fallax animarum. Dux Hæreticorum. Pater Mendacii. Fatue Bestialis. Tui creatoris Inimicus. Insipiens ebriose. Inique et iniquorum caput. Prædo infernalis. Serpens iniquissime. Lupe rapacissime. Sus macra, famelica, et immundissima. Bestia eruginosa. Bestia scabiosa. Bestia truculentissima. Bestia crudelis. Bestia cruenta. Bestia omnium Bestiarum Bestialissima. Ejecte de Paradise. De gratiâ Dei. De Cœli fastigio. De loco inerrabili. De Societate et consortia Angelorum. Immundissime Spiritus Initium omnium malorum. Trangressor bonæ vitæ. Veritatis et Justitiæ persecutor. Auctor fornicationum. Seminator zizaniarum. Dissipator pacis. Latro discordiæ. Pessime dux tenebrarum. Mortis inventor. Janua et vorago Inferni. Crudelis devorator animarum omniumque malorum causa. Malignissime Dæmon. Spurcissime Spiritus. Nefandissime susurrator. Nequissima Creatura. Vilissime apostata. Scelestissima latro. Impiissima bestia infernalis. Superbissime et ingratissime Spiritus. Iniquissime refuga. Tyranne, Omni bono vacue. Plene omni dolo et fallaciâ. Hominum exterminator. Derisio totius Angelicæ Naturæ. Maledicte Satana a Deo. Excommunicate a totâ cœlesti curiâ. Blaspheme Dei et omnium Sanctorum. Damnate a Deo atque Damnande. Spiritus Acherontine. Spiritus Tartaree. Fili Perditionis. Fili maledictionis æternæ. Rebellis Dei et totius cœlestis curiæ. Serpens crudelissime. Draco iniquissime. Creatura damnata, reprobata et maledicta a Deo in æternum ob superbiam nequitiam tuam.

The first line, Audi igitur insensate, false, reprobe, et iniquissime Spiritus means something like “Hear, then, Senseless, False, Reprobate and Most Iniquitous Spirit”. Then the Devil is called Inimicus Fidei, “Enemy of the Faith”, Adversarius Generis Humani, “Adversary of the Human Race”, Mortis Adductor, “Dragger to Death”, and Vitæ Raptor, “Snatcher of Life”. Then the vituperation really begins.

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.

The Power of Babel

“…par la suggestive lecture d’un ouvrage racontant de lointains voyages…” – J.K. Huysmans, À Rebours (1884).

The language you know best is also the language you know least: your mother tongue, the language you acquired by instinct and speak by intuition. Asking a native speaker to describe English, French or Quechua is rather like asking a fish to describe water. The native speaker, like the fish, knows the answer very intimately, yet in some ways doesn’t know as well as a non-native speaker. In other words, standing outside can help you better understand standing inside: there is good in the gap. What is it like to experience gravity? Like most humans, I’ve known all my life, but I’d know better if I were in orbit or en route to the moon, experiencing the absence of gravity.

And what is it like to be human? We all know and we’ve all read countless stories about other human beings. But in some ways they don’t answer that question as effectively as stories that push humanity to the margins, like Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1972), which is about rabbits, or Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves (also 1972), which is about trisexual aliens in a parallel dimension. There is good in the gap, in stepping outside the familiar and looking back to see the familiar anew.


Continuing reading The Power of Babel