Friday, December 10, 2010

Tales from the land between the rivers...

True story:

I've known that hippopotamus meant "river horse" and that mesozoic meant "middle critters" since I was old enough to say them, but I blithely used "Mesopotamia" well into my twenties before even stopping to think that it literally meant "between the rivers"; for some reason it had been filed as a proper noun that didn't require translation for all those years. I wonder what Kleenex is Greek for?

I'd always subconsciously read Mediterranean as "middle of the world", but maybe I'm more likely to try to process Latin, being all interested in the Roman history and stuff? And what does Caribbean mean? I couldn't give a legume, really.

Anyhow...

I had fallen into the internets the other day reading on Jaynes' Bicameral Mind theory, which is far too clever to be true, but fascinating nonetheless, and that got me reminded of a Turtledove novel called Between the Rivers which takes place at the dawn of civilization in Mesopotamia and deals with a city where the people are clever enough to not be directly ruled by their god. Instead, Engibil is content to sit in his temple and allow them to go about their business largely unsupervised as long as they bring him shiny trinkets, unlike the cities around them where the people are mere puppets of their own city gods...

So now I'm re-reading Between the Rivers.

16 comments:

og said...

Having had four years of latin and two years of greek involuntarily inserted into me, and having spent years trying to drink those memories out of my skull, I can safely say, once the madness starts, it cannot be ended. Pretty soon you have a big damned pile of books on etymology and you spend all your time trying not to sound too much like gus portokalos. The worst bit is sounding out the Koine characters on greek menus to fellow diners.

WV: Crunaus. Crunaus is from the greek word Chrony, which means time, as in time to click "post" on this comment.

Borepatch said...

"Caribbean" is from the Caribe indian tribe, a very violent groups indeed. Columbus didn't meet them, but the indians he DID meet were terrified of them.

I believe that the word "barbeque" comes from the Caribe word "barbacoa", "roasted", which is what they used to do to their captives.

And I'll bet you were pretty good at the Dictionary Game ...

Jim said...

And that, Og, leads to "Grammatical Man" which well and truly screws the mind beyond any hope of ever again using it to deal with daily life. You burn the bacon while pondering the nature the information inherent in the sizzle.

Anonymous said...

Refusing to bow to demigods, instead paying them to do nothing...

Mesopotamia > Mesooceana?

AT

Anonymous said...

Between the Rivers is a fun Turtledove book - enjoy your re-read.

Erich Martell
Albuquerque NM

Anonymous said...

Darn. I thought the post would be about Iowa. (The only state with east and west borders defined by rivers: Mississippi, Missouri, and Little Sioux.)

Jim said...

I know you meant the Big Sioux. Sisseton, S.D. to Sioux City. (From there the Missouri assumes the duty of retarding eastward migration of social-climbing Nebraskans into our Paradise.)

Anonymous said...

That novel doesn't seem too awful different from ancient near east mythology. Gods were usually seen as using humans for their own benefit, slavery or taxation. And somehow, the humans were clever enough to escape it, and use prayers or magic to manipulate their gods to do their bidding.

It's a theme that goes beyond the ancient near east as well. Most primitive cultures had some form of the "humans cleverly free themselves from enslaving gods" mythos. But the ancient near east ones are the oldest that are likely to be familiar to the average reader, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Enuma Elish.

George said...

...and the plural of Kleenex is Kleeneces...

D.W. Drang said...

My brother in law attended a high school where the one elective anyone got was to take 2 years Latin, and 2 yeas Greek, instead of 4 years Latin. DO. NOT. play Trivial Pursuit with that man!

BobG said...

Three years of Latin for me; most of my Greek I picked up from a polyglot neighborhood I lived in as a child.

GuardDuck said...

My choices were French or Spanish. The Latin or Greek I've picked up are by nature of being a history nut.

The negative in learning by reading said words, is that one's pronunciation can differ to a hilarious degree from the proper spoken word.

Rabbit said...

Changing gears, I read Jayne's book when it came out. Kinda, sorta made sense, but he makes way too many assumptions on evolutionary neurobiology for me to have a willing suspension of disbelief.

I am, however, impressed that you're familiar with the theory.

mc said...

I never thought about what B.B. referred to in the term B.B. gun and then for some odd reason I was quite struck to see it written out for what it was, ball bearing.

The best part of being a simpleton is all the new things that are so neat and shiny when you finally learn about them...Worth the ticket right there.

treefroggy said...

Ah !! "The Origins of Consciousness"

Right up there with "Idylls of the King" for sleepy-time reading. i always wondered why the ancient Greeks seemed to be "unconscious" .

Jumpthestack said...

Any mention of 'bicameral mind' stuff brings to mind "Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson, and to a lesser extent The Big U by the same.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_crash
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_U