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Tag: Charlemagne

Eco: The Nationalistic Hypothesis, 3

kircher_062

Athanasius Kircher (1602-80), his interpretation of the legendary sphere of Archimedes, using magnets to simulate the rotation of the planets. From Magnes, sive de Arte Magnetica, 1643, p. 305. Courtesy of Stanford University. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

 

“Ideas similar to these were expressed by Schottel (Teutsche Sprachkunst, 1641), who celebrated the German language as the one which, in its purity, remained closest to the language of Adam (adding to this the idea that language was the expression of the native genius of a people).

Others even claimed that Hebrew had derived from German. They repeated the claim that their language had descended from Japheth, who, in this rendition, had supposedly settled in Germany.

The name of the exact locality changed, of course, to fit the needs of different authors; yet Japheth’s grandson, Ascenas, was said to have lived in the principality of Anhalt even before the confusio. There he was the progenitor of Arminius and Charlemagne.

In order to understand these claims, one must take into account the fact that, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Protestant Germany rallied to the defense of the language of Luther’s Bible.

It was in this period that claims to the linguistic primacy of German arose, and many of these assumptions “should be seen within the context of Germany’s political fragmentation after the Thirty Years War. Since the German nation was one of the main forces capable of uniting the nation, its value had to be emphasized and the language itself had to be liberated from foreign influences” (Faust 1981: 366).

Leibniz ironized on these and other theories. In a letter of 7 April 1699 (cited in Gensini 1991: 113) he ridiculed those who wished to draw out everything from their own language–Becanus, Rudbeck, a certain Ostroski who considered Hungarian as the mother tongue, an abbé Francois and Pretorius, who did respectively the same for Breton and Polish.

Leibniz concluded that if one day the Turks and Tartars became as learned as the Europeans, they would have no difficulty finding ways to promote their own idioms to the rank of mother tongue for all humanity.

Despite these pleasantries, Leibniz was not entirely immune himself to nationalist temptations. In his Nouveaux essais (III, 2) he made a good-natured jibe at Goropius Becanus, coining the verb goropiser for the making of bad etymologies.

Still, he conceded, Becanus might not always have been entirely wrong, especially when he recognized in the Cimbrian, and, consequently, in Germanic, a language that was more primitive than Hebrew.

Leibniz, in fact, was a supporter of the Celto-Scythian hypothesis, first advanced in the Renaissance (cf. Borst 1957-63: III/1, iv, 2; Droixhe 1978).

In the course of over ten years collecting linguistic materials and subjecting them to minute comparisons, Leibniz had become convinced that at the root of the entire Japhetic stock there lay a Celtic language that was common to both the Gauls and the Germans, and that “we may conjecture that this [common stock] derives from the time of the common origin of all these peoples, said to be among the Scythians, who, coming from the Black Sea, crossed the Danube and the Vistula, and of whom one part may have gone to Greece, while the other filled Germany and Gaul” (Nouveaux essais, III, 2).

Not only this: Leibniz even discovered analogies between the Celto-Scythian languages and those which we would today call the Semitic languages, due, he conjectured, to successive migrations.

He held that “there was nothing that argues either against or for the idea of a single, common origin of all nations, and, in consequence, of one language that is radical and primitive.”

He admitted that Arabic and Hebrew seemed closer than others, their numerous alterations notwithstanding. He concluded, however, that “it seems that Teutonic has best preserved its natural and Adamitic aspect (to speak like Jacques Böhm [sic]).”

Having examined various types of German onomatopoeia, he finally concluded that the Germanic language seemed most primitive.

In presenting this scheme in which a Scythian language group progressively diffused throughout the Mediterranean world, and in distinguishing this group from the other group of southern or Aramaic languages, Leibniz designed a linguistic atlas.

Most of the conjectures in Leibniz’s own particular scheme were, in the end, erroneous; nevertheless, in the light of comparative linguistic work which would come afterwards, he had some brilliant intuitions (cf. Gensini 1990: 41).”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 99-102.

More on Sargon

“But in spite of the atmosphere of myth which came to enshroud him, as it enshrouded the persons of Kyros, of Charlemagne, and of other heroes of popular history, Sargon was a historical monarch and the founder of a really great empire.

The British Museum actually possesses an inscribed egg of veined marble which he dedicated to the Sun-god of Sippara (ed note: Shamash), and the seal of his librarian Ibni-sarru is in the hands of M. Le Clercq of Paris. What may be termed the scientific literature of the library of Nineveh makes frequent reference to him, and we learn that it was for the great library which he established in his capital city of Accad that the two standard Babylonian works on astronomy and terrestrial omens were originally compiled.

Sargon's inscribed egg for the Sun God Shamash at Sippara in the British Museum.

Sargon’s inscribed egg for the Sun God Shamash at Sippara in the British Museum.

 The work on astronomy was entitled The Observations of Bel, and consisted of no less than seventy-two books, dealing with such matters as the conjunction of the sun and moon, the phases of Venus, and the appearances of comets.

It was translated in later days into Greek by the historian Berossus and though supplemented by numerous additions in its passage through the hands of generations of Babylonian astronomers, the original work contained so many records of eclipses as to demonstrate the antiquity of Babylonian astronomy even in the remote age of Sargon himself.

But besides our knowledge of Sargon’s patronage of learning, we also know something about the civil history of his reign. A copy of its annals has come down to us. We gather from these that he was not only successful in overthrowing all opposition at home, he was also equally successful abroad.

His first campaign was against the powerful kingdom of Elam in the East, where he overthrew the enemy and mutilated their slain. Next he turned to the West, laying his yoke on Syria, and subjugating “the four quarters” of the world. Then the rival kings of Babylon and other Chaldean cities felt his power; and out of the spoil of the vanquished he built the city of Accad and gave it its name.

From this time forward his attention was chiefly devoted to the West. Year after year he penetrated into Syria, until at last, we are told, “he had neither equal nor rival;” he crossed the Mediterranean to the island we now call Cyprus, and “in the third year,” at the bounds of the setting sun, his hands conquered all peoples and his mouth decreed a single empire.

Here on the shores of Cyprus the great conqueror erected images of himself, and then carried the booty of the island to the opposite coast of Asia. Such a glimpse into the history of what became afterwards a Grecian sea, when as yet no Greeks had made their ray to their later home, is startling to those whose conceptions of authentic history have been limited by the narrow horizon of the classical world. Its trustworthiness, however, has been curiously verified by a discovery made by General de Cesnola in the treasure-vaults of a Kyprian temple among the ruins of the ancient Kurion.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.  Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.  Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:  "Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin."  The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.  Cyprus, plate 4300.  John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

A god in horned cap brandishes a mace and the forked lightening of Iva-Vul, Thunder God, and sets foot on a recumbent bull.
Behind him is a leaping ibex. In front, a man, perhaps the king, in a short coat, standing full face. Behind him a man on bended knee, possibly the owner of the cylinder. Above him, a small deer is recumbent and inverted.
Then a figure in a long garment, and 3 rows of cuneiform writing:
“Arba Istar: son of Ibu Beled: servant of the god Naram-Sin.”
The king Naram-Sin, to whom a divine determinative prefix is given here, reigned in Babylonia no later than 2600 BCE.
Cyprus, plate 4300.
John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus, 1914.

Here, among other hematite cylinders of early Babylonian origin, he found one the first owner of which describes himself as a ” servant” or ”worshipper” of “the deified Naram- Sin.” Naram-Sin was the son and successor of Sargon, and it is not likely that he would have received divine honours after the fall of the dynasty to which he belonged.

The fact that the cylinder was discovered in Cyprus seems to show that even after Sargon’s death a connection continued to exist between Cyprus and the imperial power of Babylonia. Naram-Sin, however, was more bent on the conquest of Magána, or the Sinaitic Peninsula, than upon further campaigns in the West.

Sinai, with its mines of turquoise and copper, had been a prize coveted by the Egyptians ever since the age of the Third Dynasty, and one of the first efforts of the rising rival power on the banks of the Euphrates was to gain possession of the same country.

Naram-Sin, so runs the annalistic tablet, “marched to the land of Magána; the land of Magána he conquered, and overcame its king.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 29-31.

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