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Tag: Fountain of Life

Umberto Eco: Search for the Perfect Language, 3

El_jardín_de_las_Delicias,_de_El_Bosco

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Garden of Earthly Delights. The left tablet of the triptych depicts Paradise, with the creation of Eve and the Fountain of Life. The central tablet portrays the pleasures of life, and the rightmost tablet Hell. Held in the collection of the Prado. Accession number P02823, this work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries where the copyright term is the life of the author plus 100 years or less.

“Having established the boundaries of my discourse, I must pay my debts. I am indebted to the studies of Paolo Rossi for first awakening my interest in the subjects of classical mnemonics, pansophia and world theaters; to Alessandro Bausani’s witty and learned overview on invented languages; to Lia Formigari’s book on the linguistic problems of English empiricism; and to many other authors whom, if I do not cite every time that I have drawn on them, I hope, at least, to have cited on crucial points, as well as to have included in the bibliography.

My only regret is that George Steiner had already copyrighted the most appropriate title for this book–After Babel–nearly twenty years ago. Hats off.

I would also like to thank the BBC interviewer who, on 4 October 1983, asked me what semiotics meant. I replied that he ought to know the answer himself, since semiotics was defined by Locke in 1690, in Great Britain, and since in the same country was published in 1668 the Essay towards a Real Character by Bishop Wilkins, the first semiotic approach to an artificial language.

Later, as I left the studio, I noticed an antiquarian bookstore, and, out of curiosity, I walked into it. Lying there I saw a copy of Wilkin’s Essay. It seemed a sign from heaven; so I bought it. That was the beginning of my passion for collecting old books on imaginary, artificial, mad and occult languages, out of which has grown my personal ‘Bibliotheca Semiologica Curiosa, Lunatica, Magica et Pneumatica,’ which has been a mainstay to me in the present endeavor.

In 1987, I was also encouraged to undertake the study of perfect languages by an early work of Robert Pellerey, and I shall often be referring to his recent volume on perfect languages in the eighteenth century. I have also given two courses of lectures on this topic in the University of Bologna and one at the Collège de France.

Many of my students have made contributions about particular themes or authors. Their contributions appeared, as the rules of academic fairness require, before the publication of this book, in the final issue of VS (1992), 61-3, ‘Le lingue perfette.’

A final word of thanks to the antiquarian booksellers on at least two continents who have brought to my attention rare or unknown texts. Unfortunately–considering the size prescribed for this book–as rich as the most exciting of these trouvailles are, they could receive only passing mention, or none at all. I console myself that I have the material for future excursions in erudition.

Besides, the first draft of this research totaled twice the number of pages I am now sending to the printer. I hope that my readers will be grateful for the sacrifice that I have celebrated for their comfort, and that the experts will forgive me the elliptic and panoramic bent of my story.

Umberto Eco

Bologna, Milan, Paris”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 5-6.

The Water of Life

” … In the mythical histories of Alexander the Great, the hero searches for the Water of Life, and is confronted by a great mountain called Musas (Mashti). A demon stops him and says; “O king, thou art not able to march through this mountain, for in it dwelleth a mighty god who is like unto a monster serpent, and he preventeth everyone who would go unto him.”

In another part of the narrative Alexander and his army arrive at a place of darkness “where the blackness is not like the darkness of night, but is like unto the mists and clouds which descend at the break of day.”

A servant uses a shining jewel stone, which Adam had brought from Paradise, to guide him, and found the well. He drank of the “waters of life” and bathed in them, with the result that he was strengthened and felt neither hunger nor thirst. When he came out of the well “all the flesh of his body became bluish-green and his garments likewise bluish-green.” Apparently he assumed the colour of supernatural beings.

Rama of India was blue, and certain of his monkey allies were green, like the fairies of England and Scotland. This fortunate man kept his secret. His name was Matun, but he was afterwards nicknamed “‘El-Khidr,‘ that is to say, ‘Green.'” What explanation he offered for his sudden change of appearance has not been recorded.

It is related that when Matun reached the Well of Life a dried fish which he dipped in the water was restored to life and swam away. In the Koran a similar story is told regarding Moses and Joshua, who travelled “for a long space of time” to a place where two seas met.

“They forgot their fish which they had taken with them, and the fish took its way freely to the sea.” The Arabian commentators explain that Moses once agreed to the suggestion that he was the wisest of men. In a dream he was directed to visit Al Khedr, who was “more knowing than he,” and to take a fish with him in a basket.

On the seashore Moses fell asleep, and the fish, which had been roasted, leapt out of the basket into the sea. Another version sets forth that Joshua, “making the ablution at the fountain of life,” some of the water happened to be sprinkled on the fish, which immediately leapt up.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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