getting nitty-gritty critical
my compliments of this very fine morning to mr christopher snyder, who is a very highly qualified historian, and a writer of history books.
as an undergraduate (a mere eft, indeed, had he been, like me, a newt) he collaborated on a book about king arthur which was successfully used as a university text book. which is a terrible pity because if it was anything like his second attempt (and one likes to imagine that scholars evolve with age) it helped to perpetuate the shabby traditions of bad history. pollutes the pond, so to speak.
he’s a busy academic. in 2000, when he published ‘exploring the world of king arthur’, he was a fully metamorphosed specimen, chair of a virginian university’s history and politics department and doing all sorts of other very learned things too, such as serving on editorial boards and being a fellow of one society or another of the sort that takes a deep interest in antiquities. i mean, he more than gets away with it.
no, peer review just isn’t quality control, amanda, it just isn’t, when any ‘peer’ is in effect ‘peer-reviewed’ as ‘unsound’ if they disagree too much with the hegemony. so he not only gets away with it, he’s promoted for it, and if he did anything else but proudly perpetuate the pollution of the ponds of popular and professional perceptions of the past he’d be promptly punished and possibly even persecuted with professional peremptoriness by his powerful peers and put into the pits where he’d be hard put to procure a publisher.
now i’m a fair-minded newt and it is no wish of mine to single out one scholar among so many who are all participating in the producing of such vast vistas of such simplistic pseudo-knowledge that keeping track of it all is a full-time highly paid job for our most highly educated scholars. but it happens that he sometimes writes books intended for the intelligent lay reader, not for scholars, although perhaps they might be thought useful for serious students as well. so he is paid to produce a packaged product, and i’m appalled that there’s no quality control in academic offerings to the public who pays them at all.
so okay he is a professional historian with a high reputation and i am but a humble amphibian. but many things are seen through the eye of a newt that are not visible to the eye of a professional historian, and that is why i feel it encumbent upon me that i should save you all, oh my valued readers, yes, john, you, and even, raymond and alison, you two, who would learn more if you listened and didn’t dandle each others handies in the back row, from the dangers of falling for the frauds and errors that he, poor chap has fallen for.
what is wrong with his work? here’s my assessment.
epistemology: no marks.
hermeneutics: no marks.
yes, anthea? what is epistemology? phyllis? that’s right, good girl! epistemology is the theoretics of knowledge; that is, a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, studies its premises, considers deeply the veracity of its parts, and regulates with simple sanity the tousling out of the implications of known facts. it distinguishes with great nicety between fact and theory, and deals with the production of academically sound theory by valid logic from sound bases. that is to say, basises. ahem.
and what is (or are) hermeneutics, other than the study of newts called herman? look it up in your dictionaries, yes, that’s right, simon – the methods by which scholars interpret texts. and no, murray, not specifically ‘sacred’ texts, and it is nothing to do with the extracting of abstruse ‘sacred’ sense out of all but unintelligible texts which make no sense at all to non-specialists – what did god mean when he said ‘all flesh is grass? for example. reading a text is a hermeneutical act. the words have meanings, the meanings are interrelated according to the logic of the sentences as indicated by the grammar. so it matters a lot. i don’t believe snyder has done his own translation, so i can’t hold him personally responsible for the errors of his sources, but i did take a mark off for his indiscriminate use of tricky and treacherous translations more titillating than truthful, in the face of glaring evidence of their inaccuracy.
for example, if you turn to page 80, where he is introducing us to geoffrey of monmouth, he notes that that learned author of a history of the kings of britain described himself as a PVDIBVNDVS BRITO which means, christopher has the face to assert, ‘a modest briton’. PVDIBVNDVS BRITO. a glance at that tells the average 1st former of forty odd years ago, when latin was a compulsory subject for all matriculants, that this guy wasn’t speaking classical latin. they’d’ve learnt by chanting, like i did, that BRITANVS –I (m) is the word for a briton. but all right, we might perhaps allow that there’s a reasonably high probability that BRITO (presumably) BRITONIS (m) is a dialect form of BRITANVS –I (m), but PVDIBUNDVS –A –VM means humble?
well of course he’s supported – and kept erroneous – by the lexicography, and the less we look at that the less we start to grin and giggle. i mean, julia, it is in dire and drastic need of wholesale radical revision. it is the major tool of hermeneutics, and since hermeneutics is ‘understanding’ and that’s what we’re after, let’s start rejecting what our remote ancestors bequeathed us in the way of a lexicon. lexicography must leap into the 20th century without fear or favour, and learn the art of itself, before presuming to slither it’s perverse and deviant way into the 21st. having glanced but once, or made ourselves quite queasy with looking, let’s politely look the other way.
you can of course see the reasoning behind this translation. anyone who knew good classical roman latin but not much of the other sorts, would be given pause by this little oddity and would immediately resort to good old-fashioned comparative philology as it used to be called, and they’d see its resemblance to PVDENDA, which we all know (and we doubt at our peril) means ‘requiring to be rePVDiated’. after all, it’s all about about PVD, and that of course is something too shameful to go into here. so it follows that PVDIBVNDVS would mean an abundance of PVD, i.e., shameful stuff.and ashamed of one’s abundance of PVD would equivalate approximately enough to humble, so humble is what it means. hmmmm. perhaps he even had a consciousness of having PVVD.
hey look, there’s nothing wrong with resorting to comparative philology, or historical linguistics as it is trying to get called these days – and succeeding in some circles – as long as it’s quality comp phil you’re doing. and there’s no professional historical linguistics being done on the ancient texts that isn’t based on the comp. phil. of the early twentieth and nineteenth century and earlier, when all scholars were required to swallow whole and without a murmur of protest the lexicography of the middle ages, especially that pertaining to the interpretation of ancient greek and latin texts. the need to believe that they are clearly understood, despite readily findable evidence to that they are not, has served as a kind of neurotic retarder of progress in history doing.
i mean, young efts and elvers and everyone listening to me today, current lexicography even manages to sustain some passages of the bible if – and only if – you squint and look sideways, and take the word of the copious note providers that it doesn’t look as if it means what they say it means because you just haven’t learnt enough greek – the really hard stuff that only really really learned beings know, to wit: the stuff that is totally at variance with what you learn in the first six forms of school and thereafter the next three to six years at university, in other words, they’re lying in their gills – i mean teeth!!!
and it’s the likes of them who write those lexicons, popping geoffrey of monmouth’s little gem confidently and unresponsibly in with all the good stuff with fine medieval panache. we have to go back and look at it all with very great care. imo, as they say on the message boards, of course!
fair question, samuel, what does PVDIBVNDVS mean? up until now i’ve been reserving the roman alphabet for the latin language, using an cells (uncials) only for english and other modern languages. but now i’m (exceptionally) using it to shout. NOBODY HAS THE FAINTEST I-BLOODY-FAHKEN-DEA! now that’s, epistemologically speaking, a fact.
and it is because you haven’t penetrated the enchanting mystique of the lexicography of the past, christopher snyder, that you lost one of the two marks for hermaneutics. you lost the other for jumping to silly conclusions and then stirring up the mud around you so that no one could see that that was what you’d done. we’ll talk more about why you lost the other mark some other time.
for homework, re-read nicholas nickleby, for a fine description of a yorkshire boarding school that faintly recalls its medieval origins just as it reaches its 19th century demise. it’s fascinatin’ stuff.