25 January, 2007

Ain't nothing but a. . .

In 1449, the Sienese engineer Mariano Taccola published his second book of devices and inventions, De Machinis. Here's one of those inventions:
De rocha relitta campanam cane sonante

Casus talis est ponatur quod in una turri sint duo custodes et unus eorum moritur evenit postea quod alter solus cogitur fame sive deficit sibi victualia dominus dicti custodis non providens sibi necessarium est quod ipse relinquat dictam turrem causa victus / ne sciatur ab hostibus turris totaliter derelicta / sic oportet quod faciat ut ligetur canis funi campane turris / et postea ponatur panis et aqua contra eum distantes nec adire posset / ipse canis propter famem et sitim conatur ad panem et aquam ire et dum trahit campanam et campana pulsatur. Et audientes campanam pulsantem credunt quod ibi sint custodes. Et sic deo dante dictus custos potest ire et redire fulcitus victualia ad dictam turrem.

I quote from the edition of Eberhard Knobloch, who despite his name is not affiliated with the adult entertainment industry. Notice the title, which is in a macaronic or Italianate Latin. The text itself is proper Latin, although it's a low-grade, mediaeval sort of Latin—notice the prepositional and paratactic syntax, the tendency towards SVO, the appearance of una as an indefinite article, and the juristic use of dictam, 'the aforesaid', or simply 'the', an idiom one can still see in the Renaissance vernaculars. Here's my translation:
On the abandoned fort, of which the bell is sounded by a dog

It is sometimes the case that there are two guards in a tower, and one of them dies; the other, now alone, is compelled by hunger, that is to say, by a scarcity of victuals—his superior not providing him with what he needs—to abandon the tower. Lest the enemy realise that the tower is completely abandoned, he must bind a dog with a rope to the tower's bell, and place bread and water beside it, just out of its reach. Hungry and thirsty, the dog strives for the bread and water, and meanwhile pulls the bell, and the bell is rung. Those who hear the ringing bell will believe that the guards are there. And thus, God willing, the guard can go out and return to the tower bearing victuals.

I think we see something of the junior academic in this poor dog. How he pants and tintinnabulates—melodious, and yet how minatory! It is fun to watch him up close, and we find much mirth in his efforts. But again, there is something noble and heroic in him. With his growling and straining after intellectual gold he sends up all manner of impressive cries, thus diverting the enemy from his lack of substance. And his master has given him a bell—let us call it Marx, or Derrida, or Dante, what you will—with which to sound out fearfully across the plains, Lasciate ogne speranza!

Twenty days ago a fire broke out at Fort Valve, endangering one of Kugelmass's ropes. It was stamped out by all present, though it continues to smoulder. I rather like that mischievous flamelet, but also I am growing fond of young Kugelmass, the jijifranko or dandy. I recognise much of myself in him. He is mature before his time, and quite set on tenure. We can all admire that dedication, I think, even if, by the very nature of the profession, it must remain beyond his reach for a few years. He is so smart and hungry—I do not sneer—and he has my best wishes.
Would not he who is fitted to be a guardian, besides the spirited nature, need to have the qualities of a philosopher?

I do not apprehend your meaning, Socrates.

The trait of which I am speaking, I replied, may be also seen in the dog, and is remarkable in the animal.

What trait?

Why, a dog, whenever he sees a stranger, is angry; when an acquaintance, he welcomes him, although the one has never done him any harm, nor the other any good. Did this never strike you as curious?

The matter never struck me before; but I quite recognise the truth of your remark.

And surely this instinct of the dog is very charming;—your dog is a true philosopher.
Soon I myself shall be a member of this guild, deo dante. For now, I remain the enemy, bitten with fear at the myriad names, terrified of those assessors unimpressed with historical curios and dilettante erudition. Are there guards within that ruined fort? Or merely a hound, barking? As I say, the collar beckons me also. I would be a Platonic sort of mutt, full of thumos and discernment. What I lack in dogmatism I make up in doggedness. It is too bad my nature is quite absent of loyalty.


Anonymous said...

Less dogged than Doge-ish, I think, Conrad (and certainly less dogmatic than some pups I can think of). As the old saying goes, "The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on."

Anonymous said...

This story, which could parallel the one about Shrödinger's cat, shows you what not so humane beings can do to fellow animals, which are mere machines according to Descartes. Ah, engineers... I'd rather be a fish.

(Conrad, how these days did you get to translate texts written by such a bunch of weirdoes? Do you hunt them at night or are they chasing you down the varsity corridors?)

Anonymous said...

   ... your dog is a true philosopher.
Soon I myself shall be a member of this guild

Pourquoi des philosophes ?

Anonymous said...

I'm seeing some problems with that little invention. For instance, if I was the hapless dog with the big job, I'd either be ringing the bell all the time, or skulking into recalcitrant mode at will and probably at the critical hour. This would either play into the enemy's plans or leave all parties involved scratching their heads (including the inventor). So I give the invention 1 out of 5 brilliance lemons.

John Cowan said...

Descartes thought that he thought but his dog did not. His dog, however, thought otherwise!
   --Raymond Smullyan, {lo,ma}gician

Conrad H. Roth said...

Welcome, Steve!

Sutor: I hunt them at night. And pourquoi indeed--a useless bunch. (But so charming over cheese and punch!)

WW: I admit, the plan has its flaws; but I think with sufficient training the dog could be quite effective. You've got to be resourceful is all.

Erik said...

As English is not my mothers'tongue, I hesitate to enter this intellectual blog with my pidgin-English. But I must say, here the foundation has been laid for the so-called "random lamp" which switches itself on and off at random times and periods, letting aspirant-burglars think that you are at home. The sound, misleading young Derrida- and Marxists, has been replaced by the light that deters those who do their work in darkness, hopefully converting them to light-requiring activity. But nevertheless, this mediaeval invention has paved the way.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Well observed and well put, Erik! Welcome.

Anonymous said...

Conrad, cheers.

I have no idea what a "jijifranko" is, although I suspect it gives me the power to curse mortals and raise zombies. Interestingly, neither Google nor the OED wants to enlighten me.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Sadly no zombies. 'Jijifranko' is merely a particularly terrific Ladino word for 'dandy'. 'Twas an explicative 'or', not a disjunctive one. From one jijifranko to another, sorry for the lack of clarity, but to me the word is worth it, as is so often the case.

domestic goddess said...

"What I lack in dogmatism I make up in doggedness."

sounds to me like you've got all your dogs barking...

Anonymous said...

And pourquoi indeed--a useless bunch. (But so charming over cheese and punch!)

Yes, sometimes they behave more or less like normal people, even when sober. As I mentioned J.-F. Revel's delightful book “Why Philosophers?”, I probably have to underline that the former Mr Ricard loved eating and drinking, and chose his pen-name after... a restaurant.

Sue said...

Should I know you?

Conrad H. Roth said...

Why yes, of course: everyone should.

Anonymous said...

Ahem... Conrad, what about doing your next post on something sometimes called la grosse tête? Macrocephaly, if such a disease exists, may be difficult to cure beyond a certain diameter.
 * * * * *
To the addendum (“more imaginary animal cruelty of a ritual or experimental nature”), I would be tempted to add the story of the sow who killed a child in 1386 in the Norman town of Falaise. The pig was subsequently tried before a judge (a sapiens), condemned, dressed like a human being and inflicted the same wounds as the one “she” inflicted on the child, before being put to death by hanging. Would a machine be treated this way?

The News said...

You'll get the full force of Christ, don't think you won't. He was sheer weakness and humiliation when he was killed on the Cross, but oh, he's alive now--in the mighty power of God! We weren't much to look at, either, when we were humiliated among you, but when we deal with you this next time, we'll be alive in Christ, strengthened by God. Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Wow, I think I'll keep this one!

(And thanks, Sutor.)

chris miller said...

Do you think those poor dogs will ever be cut loose ?

And did you mean to write "Danto" instead of "Dante"?

I think I hear some more barking.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Danto, if you like, Chris--or even Danton!