24 October, 2006

A box of Rochs

Last week I became interested in my ancestors. For some reason, my mother wrote to tell me about her father's mother's father, ie. my great-great-grandfather, Arthur Rochs, who wrote a dissertation on mediaeval German romance at Halle, 1882—you can buy a copy of this work, Über den Veilchenroman und die Wanderung der Euriautsage, here, for a mere 110 kronor. His name summons great and legendary creatures: the bear, the aurochs, the roc (G. Roch)—so I cannot help but imagine him as a monumental figure. When my grandfather died, his son (my uncle) gave Rochs' papers to the San Antonio public library, where the family had settled. These papers apparently did not include the dissertation, but they did include a handwritten German journal, and intriguingly, a 'broadside handbill 1882 (in Latin)'. The papers are still there, cased, as smart as a box of Rochs.

I don't have many memories of my grandfather, primarily because I grew up across the Atlantic from him, secondarily because he didn't like me very much. Because my mother had me late, he was already pretty old when I was born. Still, he gave me lots of stuff: from his stint as a UN ambassador he plied me as a child with hundreds of bizarre coins from around the world, and ceremonial weaponry from West Africa, Nepal, Malaysia—after he died I received his signet ring, in black enamel and gold, which was mugged from me in a dark alley in Bristol with a knife by a heroinated lunatic, and an ivory box of ivory miniature dominos, which I can't find, and a saucy nutcracker:

My uncle entertains hopes of discovering the Halle thesis among his papers. Either way, some day I'd like to get a look at the manuscript poems in Rochs' journal, and translate them.

Update: my uncle has discovered volumes II-IV of Rochs' poetic notebooks, apparently not sent to San Antonio after all. He adds an anecdote: 'Someone in our family. . . has a framed photograph of him, taken about the time when an artist who saw him sitting in a café and asked to use him as a model for a religious painting due to his echte Peterskopf (a real irony for Dr Rochs, an atheist, who probably never considered his resemblance to St. Peter).' The photo has not yet been unearthed.

Update #2: I have begun translating some verses from these notebooks. Some introductory material is here, and individual poems can be found with Gedichte under the 'Poems and Translations' heading to the right of this page.


Siganus Sutor said...

Conrad, as this post delves into accumulated layers of family matters, I'd have a question: on the other branch of the tree, are you related to a famous American writer?
(Curiosity killed the cat, I know, but since I'm just a little fish...)

Conrad H. Roth said...

I appreciate the sentiment, but sadly no; though perhaps we share distantly red roots.

Gawain said...

cool. i should dust off my own grandpa post.

Siganus Sutor said...

Ultimately, aren't we all children of Eve? Or Cain...

he plied me as a child with hundreds of bizarre coins from around the world
I wonder if you saw this one.
We still had these little stars a few years ago. They are out of circulation now. It may sound stupid to say this, but I miss them sometimes.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Adamah: the red earth.

Re: coin--No, but I've seen ones like it from other parts of Africa (I want to say Ethiopia off the top of my head, but I'm 3000 miles from my collection). I love those wavy-edged pieces, really distinctive.

Siganus Sutor said...

It looks as if everything was red In the Beginning. (Eve's hair as well, according to some gossip.) And one can infer that the end, too, may bear this sanguine tint.

I didn't know that there was the idea of redness in the name Adam. For me, and apparently for etymonline as well, its primary meaning was “man”. A man with some earth under the nails, of course, but which colour wasn't defined. However, if one compares human with humus (this ‘rotten’ top soil), there's a blackish shade somewhere, which could bring us back to the birthplace of mankind: Ethiopia (though a country that has had a reddish component). But it must also be remembered that the red-haired Esau was called Edom, the red, a name which seems related to Adam...

Thanks for the information.

Conrad H. Roth said...

"human with humus"

Yes. a common folk-etymology in the middle ages, humus and humanus, because men are humble (humilis) in the face of God.