13 August, 2007

On Etymology, Part 2

The child likes to play, but he likes also to break his toys so as to see what is inside them. —Antoine Thomas, Coup d’œil sur l’histoire et la méthode de la science étymologique (1904).
Isidore stands in a tradition. Nutnut etymologies had been interrogated in Plato's Cratylus—a sceptical, beautiful, and very funny dialogue about the origin of language and the relation of word to world. In around 45 BC, Varro wrote a treatise on the Latin language, of whose 25 books we possess six, full to the 10/6 hatbrim of precarious etymologies, much like Isidore's. The early Fathers indulged in the same sort of thing. But Isidore was the limit. Where could one go after the Origines? No further on the same road, certainly. So Isidore's material would be subsumed into the whelm of mediaeval lore, surfacing when needed in the course of an argument.

For Howard Bloch, Isidore embodies the pre-modern attempt to establish place, firmness, solidity: 'Like Cicero’s notion of topos or Varro’s concept of locus, Isidore seeks the places where language comes to a standstill, where meaning becomes intrinsic'. Bloch is referring to this etymology in Varro: 'Loqui (to talk), comes from locus (place), because. . . he talks, who with understanding puts each word in its own place'. Isidore constructs a system of language around his 'uncompromising reverence for etymology', such that the explicatory words have no need of further explanation. Lucus needs to be analysed; lucere does not. (Isidore had evidently learnt nothing from the work of Jacques Derrida.) But the decision to stop at lucere is arbitrary, or at least there is no reason given for it. The foundation was not yet firm; and so it had been in Varro, and so it would remain through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.


It wasn't until the late eighteenth century that a new wave of Isidoreans appeared, announcing a firm foundation of 'first principles'—the start of a great age of etymology-cranks. Rather than just repeating Varro and Isidore, they had something new to offer. They all sought to reduce, in the way that science reduces the chaos of the world to a system of regular relations. The material in this post is urbane, rather than sublime; it may seem dry, but I hope that it will stand in contrast with what came before—Isidore—as well as with what follows.
The great object of the etymological art is not to give an account of the origin of all words without exception—and I daresay this would be a frivolous aim—rather, the art is principally valuable for the materials and observations with which it can furnish philosophy, so as to raise the great edifice of a general theory of Languages.
So writes (in my translation) the statesman Anne-Robert Turgot, in his article on etymology for the 1751 Encyclopédie. An attempt to explain all words without exception would be quixotic, for so many words are impossible to analyse, being arbitrary in origin, or having origins too far lost in the dusts of time. No etymological analysis should be an end in itself, as it had been for Isidore—who had begun anew with each word—but rather should contribute a single fragment towards the 'great edifice' of a linguistic theory. Turgot's article is thus a guide to the critical and cautious use of etymology as a philological tool, and it very much embodies the Lockean empiricism of its period:
It results from all that we have said in this article, that an etymology is a supposition; that it receives its character of truth and certitude only by comparison with the known facts; from the number of circumstances of these facts that it explains; from the probabilities of its results, as the critic appreciates them.
I first came across the first quotation used as an epigraph for The Diversions of Purley, an eccentric work on etymology written in two parts (1786, 1805) by the English politician John Horne Tooke. Only here it is attributed to one 'de Brosses'—ie. Charles de Brosses (1709-1777), a man with an oar in every pie, and well-known for various literary endeavours throughout the second half of the century. (Wikipedia is not bad on him.) De Brosses' masterpiece is his 1765 Traité de la formation méchanique des langues et des principes physiques de l'étymologie, which I read in its 1801 edition, its colophon dated 'An IX'.

This Traité, very much in the same tone as the 1751 Turgot article, and full of calm, rational thinking on the development of languages, is also the first great modern monument of bambashka etymology. This apparent disparity is due to a simple fact: while Turgot's strictures are very sensible, both for science in general and for etymology in particular, they are not enough. The sober etymologists of the next century demanded more than plausibility and coherence: they demanded evidence from the regularity of historically-determined laws of language evolution. De Brosses did not. Instead, he returned to the sort of quasi-empirical speculation found in the Cratylus. Near the end of that dialogue Socrates progs at the waspnest of sound-symbolism—the notion that each vowel and consonant has a basic significance, and that words are fadged up from clusters of these sound-meanings:
Now the letter rho [ρ], as I was saying, appeared to the imposer of names an excellent instrument for the expression of motion; and he frequently uses the letter for this purpose: for example, in the actual words ρειν [to flow] and ροη [torrent] he represents motion by rho.

Thus did the legislator, reducing all things into letters and syllables, and impressing on them names and signs, and out of them by imitation compounding other signs.
Plato's concept is a primitive version of what we now call the linguistic root; this latter notion, in a good approximation of its modern form, would be imported from classical Sanskrit grammars into Western linguistics in the 19th century. But de Brosses and his successors, like Plato, could only gesture towards this. De Brosses' hunt for the symbolism of sound was a hunt for fundamental causes. Where Isidore had been concerned merely with transforming the structure of the world into a structure of words, and with ascribing an aetiology to each word, de Brosses goes further: he wants to derive all words from a much smaller group of meanings embodied in discrete sounds. In this way his interests parallel the rise of atomism and naturalist classification in the science of his century. Physics had become explicitly empiricist, and so de Brosses advocates an empirical survey of language to determine the meanings of its underlying sounds. Early on in his book he claims
That the system of the first fabric of human language, and of the imposition of names on things, is therefore not arbitrary and conventional, as we have been accustomed to picture it, but rather a true system of necessity, determined by two causes. The first is the construction of the vocal organs, which can only produce certain sounds, analogous to their structure; the other is the nature and propriety of the real things that one would name—this obliges one to apply to their names the sounds that depict them, establishing between thing and word a connection by which the word can excite an idea of the thing.
Lockean epistemology is evident in the last sentence: if, as Locke had said, words exist so as to communicate the ideas of things between men, the linguist had to explain the mechanism by which a word 'excited' an idea. It was natural to assume some sort of actual similarity or homology between the idea and its verbal sound. Thus the root FR is said to denote breaking or cutting—Hebrew PHouR, Latin FRango and FRio, French BRiser and BRoyer, Latin FuRFuR, FaRina—'After the farine (wheat) is cooked in a FuRnace, the bread, necessary aliment, is the principal foodstuff with which one FuRnishes (fournir) one's house; but we have since generalised the word fournir'—FRustrum, FRaus, FRagmenta, FRuctus, FuRor, FRigo, French eFFRoyable, FeRveur, FoRt, and so on. It is hardly surprising that de Brosses would be praised by his 1801 editor for his 'facility for grasping the very real connections between objects that seemed the most opposed'.

But de Brosses goes further than sound-symbolism, and he is not averse to traditional Isidorean speculation: for example, this digression on the celestial origins of the words for many abstract concepts—
To admire is to observe the Sun; mirari, from Mihr, ie. sol. To contemplate is to observe the Sky; contempleri, from Templum, ie. coelum [sky], aether. To consider is to observe the stars, and to desire is to lose them from view; considerare, desiderare, from Sidera [stars]. Admonition is the view of the moon; Moneo, from moun, ie. Luna.
The corollary to this type of investigation is a pronounced scepticism towards the enquiry, so common in the previous century, into the first language among men, specifically that spoken at Babel before the confusion of tongues. (Most, naturally, had said Hebrew. Becanus, notoriously, had said Brabantic.) De Brosses argues, in almost a modern tone, that even the language at the origin of several modern languages could be 'a mixture derived from many even more ancient'—for no language 'is formed all in one go'.

The results of de Brosses' theories are not so different from the results of Isidore's, but their attitudes and aims are poles apart. De Brosses still 'seeks the places where language comes to a standstill', but he seeks this in pure sound, which in turn can be mapped onomatopoeically onto the sounds of natural phenomena. Language thus evolves directly out of the natural world. Isidore's text acts as a poetic exploration of the possibilities inherent in language, and as a mnemotechnic for humanists learning about their world. De Brosses, like Turgot, regards his own activity as scientific—as seeking first causes by empirical enquiry and rational abstraction. He unlike Isidore, is thus after the 'one true hidden meaning', only he sees the pursuit in terms not of hermeneutics, but rather of mechanics and physiognomy.


When Tooke quotes Turgot, it is entirely appropriate, for he too wants to use etymology as the means to a 'general theory of Language'. For Hans Aarsleff—the only scholar to have written seriously about English linguistics at the turn of the century—John Horne Tooke (1736-1812) is the man who ruined English linguistics at the turn of the century. (The Aarsleff story is that good linguistics left England when Condillac brought Lockeanism to France, stayed there until the Germans nabbed it, and finally came back to England with its tail between its legs.) Tooke's Diversions of Purley, a strange quasi-political treatise on the origin of English words, in the form of two long dialogues at a gentleman's country home, did not participate in the Lockean ideals still motivating the French linguists of the period.

Locke had argued that words come from ideas, which in turn come from things. Language was at the bottom of the hierarchy, neither fully public nor fully private, and the most susceptible of the three strata to confusion. For Tooke, on the contrary, words come directly from things, and thoughts from words. Language is thus an active process of the soul, shaping the mind as it evolves—a Romantic way of thinking, later revived by Heidegger and his postmodern epigones, as well as by Sapir-Whorf. The history of words, for Tooke, is the history of thought: and hence we can discover the true essence of a thought by learning the original meaning of its word. We are, of course, back with Isidore. And in the second volume of the Diversions, matters get distinctly political—Tooke, the progressive, wants to deny the natural or rational basis for English law, and so he remarks that law is only that which has been laid down by men, and that what is right (rectus) is that which is ordered.

Tooke's methods were considerably more elaborate than his predecessors, with an unusual use of historical English—he quotes Chaucer and Gower, and the great prototype etymological dictionaries of Minsheu (1627) and Skinner (1678)—as well as its supposed antecedents, notably Gothic, which he cites in Wulfila's alphabet, much to my amusement. But without scientific constraints, even the insufficient dicta of Turgot, Tooke's serious ideas and linguistic gymnastics produce fanciful results; and my readers will be aware that I use the word impejoratively. Tooke reduces the parts of speech to two—the noun and the verb—and proceeds to reveal a noun or a verb in all conjunctions and prepositions. If, for instance, is traced to give(n): 'if you go to town' is made equivalent to 'given that you go to town'.

Tooke's Diversions were hugely popular in England and America, and his imitators and followers were legion. (He also spawned a number of critics, one of whom went so far as to produce a book-length rebuttal, the Anti-Tooke, full of etymologies contradicting Tooke but no more plausible.) The most notable of these was Walter Whiter (1758-1832), the author of at least three literary curiosities: a dissertation on suspended animation, a fragment-commentary on Shakespeare's verbal free-associations, and a huge tome (in two versions) on etymological metaphysics. The first version of this last is the Etymologicon Magnum: or Universal Etymological Dictionary, on a new plan (1800); it was revised in 1822 as the Etymologicon Universale, with a subtitle of truly Elizabethan length. He writes in the 1822 introduction:
Among the Etymologists, no idea of submitting a race of words to a general law had ever been adopted. One word was supposed to be derived from another single word; not was there any attempt to discover an abstract or Universal Principle, to which these various separate instances might be referred, and by which they might all be connected with each other.
And this is Whiter's great plan, and great contribution to the science of nutty etymology. The structure of etymology is for him like the structure of a monist metaphysics: a search not just for first causes, but for the first cause—a construction of the manifold out of variations on one basic principle. Thus he starts by seeking the underlying unity of those linguistic elements that seem most diverse, which he identifies with those 'most familiarly employed' and therefore 'so perpetually liable to change from frequent use'. It is, we might now say, like looking for connections between asmi, sum, eimi, am. But Whiter's big idea is that every word in every language has an original sense relating to the earth—or as he prefers it, THE EARTH—and its cultivation. (Thoreau would be a keen reader, in fact.) His reasoning?
Where can we find, or where can we expect to find an agent sufficiently potent and predominating for a purpose like this, but in that great object, which is ever present with us, at all times, and on all occasions, on which all other objects, capable of being seen or felt, either actually exist, or exhibit their force and influence?
He adds, rather wishfully, that there is no one 'who will not instantly grant' the self-evidence of such a proposition. In the 1800 work, lacking the grand projet, he had already connected EARTH to g-EARTH or GARDEN, and to HARD, Latin DUR-us and TER-ra, Greek STER-eos [solid], ORCHARD, GUARD, WARD, YARD, Hebrew ARETZ [earth], and Greek ARATOS [plough]. Now, in 1822, he identifies soil, clod, chalk, slate, sludge, silex, calx, clay, heel, clear and clean (ie. that from which clay has been removed—the old antiphrasis again). He connects write with verto, which was originally 'to turn the earth'. And he goes further with patronyms: the Celts were originally 'workers in Clay', ie. those who made bricks; they are the 'illustrious nation, I had almost said, the only nation of the Globe', and their name is cognate with those of the Gaels, Gauls, Welsh, Waldenses, Belgae, Scoloti (Scythians), Scots, Goths, Chaldaeans, Galileans, Gaetuli, Atlantidae, Itali, Latins, Lusitanians, Cilicians, Kalmucks, Moguls, Sclavonians, Caledonians, Castilians, Catalonians, Andalusians, Angles, Lacones, Albanians and Albioni, Hellenes, Pelasgi, Philistines, Poles, Pehlevi and Volsci.

Whiter thought that 'consonants are alone to be regarded in discovering the affinities between words, and the vowels are to be wholly rejected', which puts us in mind of the famous bon mot ascribed to Voltaire, that 'etymology is a study in which consonants count for very little, and vowels for nothing at all'. (This discussion thinks not Voltaire, but at least Max Müller.) But Whiter's dictum of course made it very easy for him to spin etymologies as he pleases, and for that we are grateful. He also disregards spelling conventions, pointing out that Greek γγ corresponds to Latin ng, Greek σ to Latin ns, and so on—and therefore that the letter-groups can be substituted willy-nilly. It is a 'ghoti' logic.

Took up Plato's Cratylus. Full of comic and absurd etymologies of the kind that raged till about a century ago. But also half-conscious essays about semantics of a very interesting kind. The miracle is that soon after 400 B.C. there was a community with disinterested mental leisure to ponder over such nonutilitarian matters.

— Bernard Berenson's diary, 21 March, 1942.
I have, I confess, gone on too long. And I have not even mentioned the most bizarre of all the speculators—Alexander Murray, whose 1823 History of the European Languages begins with the assertion that all words in all languages derive from nine basic roots denoting movement (ag, bag, dwag, gwag, lag, mag, nag, rag, swag), and goes on to trace the development of these roots with the most fantastical elaboration over a thousand-odd pages. (This work, unlike the others mentioned here, can happily be bought in an Elibron reprint.) There are countless more.

The new Isidoreans had similar (albeit more sophisticated) results, different self-presentations, and ultimately the same overall goal as Isidore himself. All of them, to a man, were creating their world with words, as if the hierarchy were not thing—idea—word but idea—word—thing; as if language, guided by an overarching theory, were recreating the real world. But there was no mysticism among this group, as there would be for the occultists of the later nineteenth century; De Brosses, Tooke and Whiter were all staunch materialists, and all understood their own project to be a naturalist one—pure common sense—however silly, or however magical, it might seem to us.


Michael said...

Worth noting as related to the issue of etymology-crankdom is the development that took place in occultism following the discovery, in the late 18th century, of the kinship between Sanskrit and European tongues which came to be identified as "Indo-Aryan."

The old philosophia perennis of Ficino, Pico, Bruno, and many others, which ascribed great antiquity and importance to the Corpus Hermeticum, was largely discredited outside occult circles by the mid-seventeenth century, when the Hermetica were dated by textual analysis, not as the ancient texts they were previously thought to be, but as no older than the time of Christ. Suddenly the notion of Hermes as priscus theologus was exploded.

The discovery of Sanskrit and the genuinely ancient Hindu scriptures afforded a substitute prisca theologia and all sorts of occultists and quacks embraced eveything Indian, the most obvious examples being Mme Blavatsky and René Guénon. Nietzsche's Zarathustra is, in a different way, another product of the same enthusiasm (I use the word in its 18th century sense), and of course Nietzsche was a philologist.

Simultaneously the etymological connections between ancient Indian and European tongues were used as the basis of theories about the movements of peoples from Asia into Europe, giving rise to a school of racial anthropology that had significant influence on twentieth-century events. Little more need be observed than that the inescapable aroma that hangs around the word "Aryan" is its product.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks for the comment, but this is not quite true. Firstly, the kinship between Sanskrit and European tongues had been identified as far back as the 16th century. Secondly, although Isaac Casaubon proved the spuriety of the Hermetic texts, this hardly stopped interest in the texts, as D. P. Walker's The Ancient Theology demonstrates. Even Christopher Hill could find plenty of evidence for implicit and explicit Hermetism in radical English thought of the mid-century. It was Leibniz (c. 1700) who popularised Agostino Steuco's (1540) term 'philosophia perennis', and Thomas Taylor, who translated most of Plato and his followers into English for the first time in the 18c., was a fully paid-up believer in this stuff.

The obsessional interest in India had to wait until the 19c., long after both the discovery of Sanskrit's connection to Greek and Latin, and the disproof of the Hermetic texts. The famous quote is William Jones in 1786, which was more interesting for its expression of Empire than for its linguistic novelty--and it seems pretty obvious that the Indianism (accompanied by an interest in Buddhism, which transmitted itself through Schopenhauer to Nietzsche) had to wait until the serious imperial expansion of the 19c.

Michael said...

I was of opinion that the substitution of Hinduism for Hermetism as prisca theologia had its genesis in the work of Reuben Burrow, one of the contributors to Jones's "Asiatick Researches."

If parallels between Sanskrit and European tongues had been noted as early as the sixteenth century, the discovery failed to capture the scholarly imagination until much later. It seems rather comparable to the discoveries of North America by various Norse and Scots explorers, which had nothing like the effect of Columbus's discovery of it in 1492.

Of course Casaubon's dating of the Hermetica was vigorously contested. Amongst the most fervent defenders of Hermes were the chymists. Olaus Borrichius, in his "De ortu et progressu chemiæ" (1668) not only asserts the Hermetic legend but conflates it with the biblical account of Tubalcain (Gen. v:22) -

"Chemiæ incunabula in anitqvissima prospiciunt tempora. Natam ante diluviam ex Tubalcaini [qvi aliis Nationibus Vulcanus est] historia sagaciores colligunt, eo inducti, quòd ferri, ærisqve metalla, illa Tubalcaini Magisteria inveniri, fingi, formariqve; nequeant, ni ratio priùs congnoscatur, minerarum naturas investigandi, coqvendi, purgandi, segregandi,; qvæ universa reperire non nisi Divini ingenii est, repreta autem proseqvi, fabri cujusvis proletarii..."

The Borrichius narrative goes on to state that the secrets of chemistry discovered by Tubalcain were eventually written down on pillars that survived the Flood and were discovered afterward by Hermes. It is curious how similar this account is to many of the ancient Masonic Charges, e.g., the Cooke MS. of c. 1450 or Sloane MS No. 3848, dated 1646, made by Edward Sankey, the son of Richard Sankey - a member of the lodge in which Elias Ashmole was made a mason at Warrington in Lancashire in 1646.

The chymists had, at least, cause to doubt Casaubon's dating of the Hermetica in the case of their favored texts, which were not part of the "philosophical" Corpus as translated by Ficino and expounded by occultists of the stripe of Giordano Bruno. There is no known Greek version of the Tabula smaragdina, the principal "Hermetic" text of alchemy. Thus the matter was unsettled for a long time. Much of Borrichius's book is devoted to his controversies on these points with Conringius, a critic of the Hermetica. Joseph Needham argues that it was originally Chinese.

In any event, Hermetism's survival of Casaubon's dating probably owes largely to its alchemical followers, who were not affected by it. Hermetism passes out of the philosophical "mainstream" into the occult underground at about the same time that chrysopoetic chymistry did - c. 1700. One vehicle for the survival of these beliefs through the eighteenth century was Freemasonry. The mention of Hermes in the ancient charges is a passing one, but the Hermetic theme is much amplified in the 'hautes grades' of the misnamed Scottish Rite, which is actually French in origin. An especial example is the 28º, Knight of the Sun.

The philosophia perennis resurfaces in the nineteenth century, sometimes divorced from Hermetism (as in the case of Blavatsky) and sometimes not (as in the case of Gen. Albert Pike, C.S.A., 33º, a late partisan of Hermetism and also a student of Sanskrit).

Conrad H. Roth said...

I'm sure this is the first time anyone has ever mentioned either Burrow or Borrichius in a blog comment, so congratulations. And you're not even a professional scholar, are you? I'm impressed, and heartened.

"If parallels between Sanskrit and European tongues had been noted as early as the sixteenth century, the discovery failed to capture the scholarly imagination until much later."

Yes, but one has to ask why--the conditions have to be right for a paradigm shift, and George Metcalf and others have discussed Kuhn's theory in relation to this very issue in Dell Hymes, ed. Studies in the History of Linguistics: Traditions and Paradigms.

The Flood-surviving pillars are from Josephus; it would be interesting to read a history of how this story was coopted for occultist ends in various ways.

Anyway, occultism and etymology come together in my forthcoming third post on the subject.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Incidentally, 'its alchemical followers' is a bit misleading, because Hermes was accepted by figures like Newton and Cudworth (who found Casaubon's reasoning to be flawed) before 1700. It is telling that Sterne could make humour out of Walter Shandy (almost) naming his son after Trismegistus.

Plainly people will always find crazy things to believe, and occultism found a powerful resurgence in 19c. France with Levi and Fabre d'Olivet (whom I'll discuss in the final part). Even Joseph Kroll (1914) tries to argue that Hermetism predates Christ--where there's a will there's a way.

Michael said...

Borrichius cites Berosus the Chaldean (c. 330-250 BC) as one source for the antediluvian pillars. This antedates Josephus, whom he also mentions. The immediate source of the story as recounted in the Cooke MS was probably Higden's "Polychronicon" (14th. c), but my impression is that the introduction into the bouillabaisse of Hermes Trismegistus as their rediscoverer and interpreter was a peculiarity of the ancient Masonic charges. It is possible that Borrichius may have had correspondence with Ashmole or Sir Robert Moray, who may have felt that enough of the masonic legend was in what we would now call "the open literature" that they would not be violating any of their obligations to discuss these matters with him.

I have not read it, but an article about how the story of the Flood-surviving pillars was "coopted for occultist ends in various ways" might be W.J. Williams's "The Antediluvian Pillars in Prose and Verse," Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. 51, pp. 100-125.

I should call Newton an alchemical follower of Hermes. His alchemical researches are described by B.J.T. Dobbs in her "Hunting of the Green Lion" and there is much additional material on Newton in Lawrence Principe's biography of Boyle, "The Aspiring Adept," which corrects some of Dobbs's mistakes as to Newton's sources. Boyle, Newton, and Locke were particularly fascinated by the phenomenon of "incalescent mercury," a specially prepared amalgam of mercury with antimony and a small amount of copper. This material amalgamated with gold yielding perceptible evolution of heat. Exothermic alloying reactions are rare and still not well understood. The incalescence of quicksilver with gold is probably the only one that takes place at or near room temperature. Boyle and Newton were not the last people to be surprised and confused by incalescence, thinking the transmutation of metals to be closely involved with it. Recent claims of "cold fusion" are probably based in a very similar heating reaction between hydrogen and palladium.

Whatever "professional scholar" means, I'm sure I'm not one - I certainly don't make my living at such work! I am fortunate to have a surplus income sufficient to buy old books, and have retained enough Latin to read them, though.

Conrad H. Roth said...

I can't find any mention of the pillars in Berossus: the closest is 'He therefore enjoined him to write a history of the beginning, procedure, and conclusion of all things; and to bury it in the city of the Sun at Sippara.' Furthermore if it were in Berossus one would expect to see a reference to B in Josephus on the subject, as Josephus cites and quotes the Babylonian several times on other subjects.

Michael said...

I have not looked in Berosus, knowing of this only through Borrichius, middle of p. 22: "Sed qvid inscriptum Sethianis Columnis? scientia rerum cœlestium, si audimus Josephum; prognosticon interitus mundi prioris, si Beroso Anniano credimus; curiosarum rerum noticia, & maleficæ qvoque Magorum artes, si fidimus Sereno apud Cassianum; septem artes liberales in VII. æneis & VII. lateritiis espressæ columnis, si Petro Comestor in histor. Eccles. Gen. cap. XXXVII. debemus assensum." No citation to Berosus by book and chapter is given by Borrichius. Perhaps he had in mind the passage you quote.

The story of the two sets of pillars, seven of brass and seven of brick, which Borrichius attributes to Peter the Eater, Knoop and Jones ascribe to Zoroaster in "The Genesis of Freemasonry." In any event, the combination of the antedilvuan pillars with their post-diluvian discovery by Hermes is not found in Josephus, but is a common feature of many old Masonic charges.

The survival of the philosophia perennis from its loss of 'mainstream' intellectual respectability by the end of the seventeenth century, through the eighteenth century, until it reappeared in the nineteenth, bereft of Hermes and adorned in his place with Hindu concepts (including sexual magic loosely derived from tantric practices) and motifs (including the swastika!), seems to me to be deeply connected with fringe freemasonry and odd religious sects like the Swedenborgians. An interesting character in this connection is Gen. Charles Rainsford (1728-1809), whose extensive collection of alchemical and occult MSS is preserved at Alnwick Castle, perhaps not coincidentally the location for "Hogwarts" in the movie "Harry Potter and the Philosophers' Stone."

Conrad H. Roth said...

"si Beroso Anniano credimus"

I think this is the crux: see here.

I like 'Peter the Eater'; I've never heard Comestor translated like that!

Anyway, I defer to you on Freemasonry, as I know nothing about it. Have you seen the London lodge? A marvelous building, and marvelously preserved.

Michael said...

I knew I had a copy of Berosus somewhere, and last night I found it - sure enough, its title reads "Berosi Sacerdotis chaldaici, Antiquitatum libri quinque, cum commentariis Joannis Annij Viterbensis facræ Theologiæ professoris... M.DC.XII. Wittenergæ, Typis Martini Henckelij Sumptibus Samuelis Seelfischij."

The writing down of antediluvian knowledge is mentioned, just as in the genuine Berosus, and not on pillars but on a "monument." In his commentary Annius credits this to Enoch, who had foreseen the Flood from astronomical observations. Cf. Dr. Anderson's Constitutions, ed. of 1738, where he writes: "Some call them Seth's Pillars, but the old Masons always call'd then Enoch's Pillars, and firmly believ'd this Tradition." It seems quite reasonable that both Borrichius and Anderson were taken in by Annius's Berosus, but that still doesn't explain the ancient charges, the earliest of which antedate Annius.

Michael said...

P.S. - the Berosus of Annius is an interesting thing to read, forgery or no - it seems as if his intent were to try to harmonize the Bible, Josephus and other ancient historians, and classical mythology. Among the features of the text is a table of the posterity of Noah's children, including the lines of Osiris and Priam. The commentary continues with an ethnography including the Celtiberians, Sarmates (Poles), Scythians, etc. Its similarity to the quack efforts to derive a racial anthropology from linguistics in the 19th century is surprising.

Conrad H. Roth said...

If I'm reading the abbreviations aright, "inundatione[m] terraru[m] a causis naturalib[us] p[ro]cessisse / quas studiosi i[n] monumentu[m] excideru[n]t:& a divina p[ro]uide[n]tia simul ab eterno ordinata[m]:"

The passage can be found at the top of this page of the online edition of Annius. Isn't the internet amazing?

I would be interested to read Annius, but my Latin is not good enough to read through this stuff quickly, especially not in the online format with its barbarous abbreviations.

Re: racialism and linguistics, I think there was probably an unbroken continuity in the combined interest in the two; after all, the linguistic texts of the 18c. (Monboddo, to take a good example) are decidedly concerned with the origin of man and his races--ie. with the study of what would later be called anthropology. There was also a lot of discussion at this time of the racial differences between the Semitic and Hellenic peoples.

Max Muller came from a long tradition.

Conrad H. Roth said...

(Not to mention Whiter's list of races, of course. Similar nonsense can be found as late as Arnold Wadler's One Language, 1948.)

Michael said...

My example, which has fewer contractions, tallies with your reading of the Internet version exactly. In the 1612 Wittenberg ed. this copy is found in the middle of fol. 8(recto). I am indeed amazed this work is on the Internet!

The best list of Latin contractions I have found is in McKerrow's "Introduction to Bibliography" (O.U.P., 2nd .ed., 1928) pp. 319-24. Still it is slow going unless you read enough of this sort of thing to memorize them all. The Latin can be managed with time, but 16th-17th Greek printing with all its ligatures is still worse. Aldine Greek is not so complicated as Estienne's. I know of nothing comparable to McKerrow's list of Latin sorts for help with old Greek typography. Do you?

Conrad H. Roth said...

Sadly not. In fact I don't even have McKerrow or another book for the Latin abbreviations--I just know the basic ones learnt in palaeography 101 sessions. It's the same with Greek--I can recognize the -os ligature and a few others, but have no systematic knowledge.

I'm mainly familiar with McKerrow as the great editor of the works of Thomas Nashe (1904-10), still the standard after a century. (I did my MA thesis on Nashe, and benefited much from his erudition, which, from the days before Google, and even before serious library indexes, is still incredible.)