The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Monday, July 04, 2016

Distant mirrors

I've started Ostler's book just now. First up, and out of historical and religious sequence: Mesoamerica, perhaps because it's the paradeigmatic alien encounter.

We start (p. xxii) with the Maya who lack a word for "to be". One Mr Prechtel joined a Tzutujil village and became the "First Grandchild" there (we'll get to that), whose duty is as a sort of mu''adib charged with "initiating youth". Tzutujil, Prechtel says, is a language of carrying and belonging... you are defined by where you stand and whom you stand with. Ostler adds that to the Maya what one does also matters; he relates that further with Biblical Hebrew ("and modern Russian"). Although the Torah does, famously, attribute Being and Existence to YHWH. We should think also of classical Arabic; the Qur'an uses kâna (an imperfect, so: "he was", "he has always been"), and kun (imperative: "be!") - but again, often attributed to the Divine, and never used lightly.

A still-closer analogy in Maya to Arabic would be the emphasis on belonging. In the caliphate, what mattered is getting close to God's shade on Earth; thrones were for Khusru and the Caesars. In Mesoamerica we recall that strange inversion of intimacy in "Grandchild" in what, really, should be a paternal figure. Ostler in p. 7 returns to that with the Aztecs whose -tzin suffix, for nobility (which Gary Jennings taught me) turns out to be a term of endearment. Mesoamerica was a small place, or at least the Place Of Reeds "Teotihuacan" had made it into one.

Modern Spanish, we're told, is like the great classical Mesoamerican tongues, in that a Spaniard might call her mother Mijita. But now I'm wondering if this came from idiomatic Arabic, at least in Maghrebi form. In so many little ways did the Muslims prepare the Latinos for their task across the great western ocean...

posted by Zimri on 09:40 | link | 0 comments

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