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Eco: Before and After Europe, 3

Francisco_de_holanda-de_aetatibus

Francisco of Holland, 1543-73, De aetatibus mundi imagines, Creation of Man, Biblioteca Nacional de España. 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.

 “There is one sense in which St. Augustine did have a clear idea of a perfect language, common to all people. But this was not a language of words; it was, rather, a language made out of things themselves.

He viewed the world, as it was later to be put, as a vast book written with God’s own finger. Those who knew how to read the book were able to understand the allegories hidden in the scriptures, where, beneath references to simple earthly things (plants, stones, animals), symbolic meanings lay.

This Language of the World, instituted by its creator, could not be read, however, without a key; it was the need to provide such a key that provoked a rapid outflowing of bestiaries, lapidaries, encyclopedias and imagines mundi throughout the Middle Ages.

This represents a tradition that will resurface in our own story as well: European culture will sometimes seize upon hieroglyphs and other esoteric ideograms, believing that truth can only be expressed in emblems or symbols.

Still, St. Augustine’s symbolic interests were not combined with the longing to recover a lost tongue that someone might, or ought to, speak once again.

For Augustine, as for nearly all the early Fathers, Hebrew certainly was the primordial language. It was the language spoken before Babel. After the confusion, it still remained the tongue of the elected people.

Nevertheless, Augustine gave no sign of wanting to recover its use. He was at home in Latin, by now the language of the church and of theology.

Several centuries later, Isidore of Seville found it easy to assume that, in any case, there were three sacred languages–Hebrew, Greek and Latin–because these were the three languages that appeared written above the cross (Etymologiarum, ix, 1).

With this conclusion, the task of determining the language in which the Lord said “fiat lux” became more arduous.

If anything, the Fathers were concerned about another linguistic puzzle: the Bible clearly states that God brought before Adam all the beasts of the field and all the fowl of the air. What about the fish? Did Adam name the fish? Maybe it seemed inconvenient dragging them all up from the briny deep to parade them in the garden of Eden.

We may think this a slight matter; yet the question, whose last trace is to be found in Massey’s Origins and Progress of Letters published in 1763 (cf. White 1917: II, 196), was never satisfactorily resolved, despite Augustine’s helpful suggestion that the fish were named one at a time, as they were discovered (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim, XII, 20).

Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages, when Europe had still to emerge, premonitions of its linguistic future lurked unrecorded. New languages came slowly into being. It has been calculated that, towards the end of the fifth century, people no longer spoke Latin, but Gallo-Romanic, Italico-Romanic or Hispano-Romanic.

While intellectuals continued to write in Latin, bastardizing it ever further, they heard around them local dialects in which survivals of languages spoken before Roman civilization crossed with new roots arriving with the barbarian invaders.

It is in the seventh century, before any known document written in Romance or Germanic languages, that the first allusion to our theme appears. it is contained in an attempt, on the part of Irish grammarians, to defend spoken Gaelic over learned Latin.

In a work entitled Auracepit na n-Éces (“the precepts of the poets”), the Irish grammarians refer to the structural material of the tower of Babel as follows:

“Others affirm that in the tower there were only nine materials, and that these were clay and water, wool and blood, wood and lime, pitch, linen, and bitumen. . . . These represent noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, participle, conjunction, preposition, interjection.”

Ignoring the anomaly of the nine parts of the tower and only eight parts of speech, we are meant to understand that the structure of language and the construction of the tower are analogous. This is part of an argument that the Gaelic language constituted the first and only instance of a language that overcame the confusion of tongues.

It was the first, programmed language, constructed after the confusion of tongues, and created by the seventy-two wise men of the school of Fenius. The canonic account in the Precepts

“shows the action of the founding of this language . . . as a “cut and paste” operation on other languages that the 72 disciples undertook after the dispersion. . . . It was then that the rules of this language were constructed. All that was best in each language, all there was that was grand or beautiful, was cut out and retained in Irish. . . . Wherever there was something that had no name in any other language, a name for it was made up in Irish. (Poli 1989: 187-9).”

This first-born and, consequently, supernatural language retained traces of its original isomorphism with the created world. As long as the proper order of its elements was respected, this ensured a sort of iconic bond between grammatical items and referents, or states of things in the real world.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 14-7.

The Five Epagomenal Days

“But to the three hundred and sixty days given in the calendars of lucky and unlucky days must be added the five epagomenal days which were considered to be of great importance and had each its peculiar name.

On the first Osiris was born, on the second Heru-ur (Aroueris), on the third Set, on the fourth Isis, and on the fifth Nephthys; the first, third, and fifth of these days were unlucky, and no work of any kind was to be undertaken on them.

The rubric which refers to these days (See Chabas, op. cit., p. 104) states that whosoever knoweth their names shall never suffer from thirst, that he shall never be smitten down by disease, and that the goddess Sekhet (the Eye of Sekhet seems to have taken the form of noxious vapours in the fields at sunrise; see Chabas, op. cit., p. 78) shall never take possession of him; it also directs that figures of the five gods mentioned above shall be drawn with unguent and ânti scent upon a piece of fine linen, evidently to serve as an amulet.

From the life of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes (I. 4) we learn that the Egyptians were skilled in the art of casting nativities, and that knowing the exact moment of the birth of a man they proceeded to construct his horoscope.

Nectanebus employed for the purpose a tablet made of gold and silver and acacia wood, to which were fitted three belts. Upon the outer belt was Zeus with the thirty-six decani surrounding him; upon the second the twelve signs of the Zodiac were represented; and upon the third the sun and moon (quote from my History of Alexander the Great, Cambridge, 1889, p. 5).

He set the tablet upon a tripod, and then emptied out of a small box upon it models of the seven stars (i.e., Sun, Moon, Zeus, Kronos, Aphrodite, and Hermes; we must add Mars according to Meusel’s Greek text) that were in the belts, and put into the middle belt eight precious stones; these he arranged in the places wherein he supposed the planets which they represented would be at the time of the birth of Olympias, and then told her fortune from them.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 228-9.

Rites of Mummification Concluded

“On the conclusion of the ceremonies which concern the head the deceased has the power to go in among the holy and perfect spirits, his name is exalted among men, the denizens of heaven receive his soul, the beings of the underworld bow down before his body, the dwellers upon earth adore him, and the inhabitants of the funeral mountain renew for him his youth.

Besides these things, Anubis and Horus make perfect his bandages, and the god Thoth protects his members by his words of magical power; and he himself has learned the magical formulæ which are necessary to make his path straight in the underworld, and also the proper way in which to utter them.

All these benefits were secured for him by the use of bandages and unguents which possess both magical names and properties, and by the words of power uttered by the priests who recited the Ritual of Embalmment, and by the ceremonies which the priest who personated Anubis performed beside the body of the deceased in imitation of those which the god Anubis performed for the dead god Osiris in remote days.

Next the left hand of the deceased was mummified and bandaged according to the instructions given in the Ritual of Embalmment. The hand was stretched out on a piece of linen, and a ring was passed over the fingers; it was then filled with thirty-six of the substances which were used in embalming, according to the number of the forms of the god Osiris.

This done, the hand was bandaged with a strip of linen in six folds, upon which were drawn figures of Isis and Hâpi. The right hand was treated in a similar way, only the figures drawn upon the bandages were those of Râ and Amsu; and when the appropriate words had been recited over both hands divine protection was assured them.

After these things the ceremonies concerning the right and left arms were performed, and these were followed by rubbing the soles of the feet and the legs and the thighs, first with black-stone oil, and secondly with holy oil.

The toes were wrapped in linen, and a piece of linen was laid on each leg; on each piece was drawn the figure of a jackal, that on the right leg representing Anubis, and that on the left Horus.

When flowers of the ânkham plant and other substances had been laid beside and on the legs, and they had been treated with ebony-gum water and holy oil, and appropriate addresses had been said, the ceremony of bandaging the body was ended.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 189-91.

The Rites

Continued:

“The unguent cometh unto thee to fashion thy members and to gladden thy heart, and thou shalt appear in the form of Râ; it shall make thee to be sound when thou settest in the sky at eventide, and it shall spread abroad the smell of thee in the nomes of Aqert. . . .”

“Thou receivest the oil of the cedar in Amentet, and the cedar which came forth from Osiris cometh unto thee; it delivereth thee from thy enemies, and it protecteth thee in the nomes.”

“Thy soul alighteth upon the venerable sycamores. Thou criest to Isis, and Osiris heareth thy voice, and Anubis cometh unto thee to invoke thee.”

“Thou receivest the oil of the country of Manu which hath come from the East, and Râ riseth upon thee at the gates of the horizon, at the holy doors of Neith.”

“Thou goest therein, thy soul is in the upper heaven, and thy body is in the lower heaven . . . O Osiris, may the Eye of Horus cause that which floweth forth from it to come to thee, and to thy heart for ever!”

These words having been said, the whole ceremony was repeated, and then the internal organs which had been removed from the body were placed in the “liquid of the children of Horus,” so that the liquid of this god might enter into them, and whilst they were being thus treated a chapter was read over them and they were put in the funeral chest.

When this was done the internal organs were placed on the body, and the body having been made to lie straight the backbone was immersed in holy oil, and the face of the deceased was turned towards the sky; the bandage of Sebek and Sedi was then laid upon the backbone.

In a long speech the deceased is addressed and told that the liquid is “secret,” and that it is an emanation of the gods Shu and Seb, and that the resin of Phoenicia and the bitumen of Byblos will make his burial perfect in the underworld, and give him his legs, and facilitate his movements, and sanctify his steps in the Hall of Seb.

Next gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, and turquoise are brought to the deceased, and crystal to lighten his face, and carnelian to strengthen his steps; these form amulets which will secure for him a free passage in the underworld.

Meanwhile the backbone is kept in oil, and the face of the deceased is turned towards the heavens; and next the gilding of the nails of the fingers and toes begins.

When this has been done, and portions of the fingers have been wrapped in linen made at Saïs, the following address is made to the deceased:—

“O Osiris, thou receivest thy nails of gold, thy fingers of gold, and thy thumb of smu (or uasm) metal; the liquid of Râ entereth into thee as well as into the divine members of Osiris, and thou journeyest on thy legs to the immortal abode.”

“Thou hast carried thy hands to the house of eternity, thou art made perfect in gold, thou dost shine brightly in smu metal, and thy fingers shine in the dwelling of Osiris, in the sanctuary of Horus himself.”

“O Osiris, the gold of the mountains cometh to thee; it is a holy talisman of the gods in their abodes, and it lighteneth thy face in the lower heaven.”

“Thou breathest in gold, thou appearest in smu metal, and the dwellers in Re-stau receive thee; those who are in the funeral chest rejoice because thou hast transformed thyself into a hawk of gold by means of thy amulets (or talismans) of the City of Gold,” etc.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 186-8.

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