erm, herman isn’t here right now, so it’ll have to be history, instead. we’re looking at byzantium by john julius norwich.
it’s in three volumes:
the early histories.
the apogee.
the decline and fall.

it was first published by viking in 1988, reprinted by penguin in 1990, and in its fourth printing by 2007, dorian’s is the folio edition, all covered over with little bits of gold and lots of glossy pictures of antiquities tucked in here and there between carefully designed pages of text.

here glanced into by the renowned historian dorian hiss, or, as he is more likely to be referred to in citations, bibliographies and indexes, hiss, dorian, known affectionately to his friends as hissy. a graduate of st custards, as was the celebrated nigel molesworth, dorian obtained his phd SUMMA CUM LOUDER from the iona gwersity (you don’t pronounce the g and the w is a labio-dental) of wyeuro in 2008, and has been serving on committees and writing blogs ever since. (whether there is any truth in the rumour that hissy is really aka the ‘truly appalling vyvyan ogma wyverne’ as oxford scholar mark williams aka megli of the message boards once called her on the celtic-l list, is a matter for further research. dorian himself knows nothing of such rumours and anyway prefers to keep to the facts. what’s of more interest to us here are hiss, dorian’s thoughts about norwich, john julius’s three volume book. i’ll hand you over to hiss.

hem hem, as for byzantium – it’s a proud book, with some of the most conceited modesty i’ve ever encountered. don’t even think to compare him to gibbons, he implores in his intro, but since gibbons has declined and fallen in most historian’s esteem these days, at least, so we hope, it would do but little harm if we did. like gibbons, he truly believes that most of what has happened so far in history is a blessed relief because if anything had happened differently it would not now be like it now is, and then where would we be – christ alone knows, maybe it would be different or something, saints preserve us. he starts his chapter one with “in the beginning was the word”, without attribution – ’nuff said. anyway, he got good marks in history to the tune of a phd in it i daresay, though there’s no mention of it in this edition, pry as i might between the pages and even down the back of the spine, but he was a good friend of somebody influential to do with the new yorker and had visited istanbul in 1954, and he has (or anyway expresses) strictly orthodox views – that’s why his book got published at all – so he’s representative, if not definitive, and that makes him a fair target for the likes of me.

i’m going to take a fairly detailed look at some of the things he says in chapter one, just as they come up. even before the plagiarism of his first sentence, he quotes for us a slab of a quote from constantine himself which he found in eusebius’s de vita constantine. it includes the simple direct assertion that ‘beginning at the remote ocean of britain. . . with god’s help i banished and eliminated every form of evil then prevailing. . .’ without mentioning where it all ended. i warn you that this is a quote from a quote from a quote, and while we can be sure that i have copied it pretty accurately from norwich, john julius, and that he has copied it pretty nearly verbatim, or even to the letter, from a translation by williamson, g a of eusebius’s history of the church from christ to constantine, there’s no knowing how accurately williamson translated it from the latin, and even less knowing how accurately it was translated into the latin from its original source. then, how reliable were his sources as a truthful account of the exact words of constantine the great? eusebius swears blind that the author of that history knew the ‘victorious emperor’ personally. but was the ‘glorious emperor’ referred to constantine? and was eusebius the author of that particular history?

i refer you to my colleague, the distinguished moloji, etty, for a brief etymology of the chap’s monicker. over to you, etty.

moloji, etty: no. no, really dorian. no.

hiss, dorian: what? what do you mean, know?

moloji, etty: just that. i mean nobody ever believes anything i say. they all get it off the web and the web just gets it off the universities and the universities all get it off each other and . . . and . . .

hiss, dorian: please don’t snivel, etty.

moloji, etty: . . . and they never stop to think.

hiss, dorian: well, you do, etty, i know you do.

moloji, etty: well, you see, they all think eu is greek and means sweet, good and nice and all that. they think the hellenes were naïve, but they weren’t, they were half-educated braggards. worse still, they think the hellenes were greeks.

hiss, dorian: yes, but don’t tear your hanky dear. tell us what eu really was.

moloji, etty: well, i could if i could only get you to believe just one little thing – no, two.

hiss, dorian: try us, etty.

moloji, etty: well, the hellenes were british, or anyway, celts from britain; that’s the first.
and the second is that just as now in the britain of today, half of ‘em couldn’t say ‘l’ except before a vowel and half of ‘em could. the ones who couldn’t pronounced it w, which was spelt variously w, u, oo, or o. eu.

hiss, dorian: are you sure of this, etty?

moloji, etty: blood oath.

hiss, dorian: so what does eu mean?

moloji, etty: hell. they also dropped their ‘h’s half the time, some of ’em.

hiss, dorian: hell?

moloji, etty: yes, for feic’s sake, as in hellenes.

hiss, dorian: but eusebius was a roman.

moloji, etty: nngggghhhnghhhhnghhhhh. i’ll say that again. nngggghhhnghhhhnghhhhh. nngggghhhnghhhhnghhhhh. nngggghhhnghhhhnghhhhh.

hiss, dorian: well, what then?

moloji, etty: eu means el, which means hell, as in hellene. You see it was originally pol, as when everyone used to put up the central pole of a proposed building to proclaim a new polis. polis was a plural form of a word ancestral to and very similar in meaning and pronunciation to the modern english word pole – a wooden post. perhaps the original polis was a wooden structure, like the iron-age hill forts which had wooden ‘palisades’ (polis is palace in england, palais in france, baile in ireland, but the meaning varies a bit) and pales and poles and palings are all to do with wooden posts. polis means poles. but the meaning got transferred to any polis or palace whatever it was made of, and because stone ones lasted better and were harder to burn than wooden ones, and the forests were diminishing anyway, the wealthier ones stopped using wood, even when wood was available and they had to import the stone from far away. but then when the far north was colonised, they sent brides for the norse men from the warm south to the snowy northern extremes and they all got terrible frostbite and lost their lips. read about the medusa for example. here’s a link to that brilliant scholar, the truly appalling vyvyan ogma wyverne’s brief, easy to read, ground-breaking essay on the subject. needs revision but it makes its point:–k–split-or-how-the-gorgon-lost-her-liks—i-mean-lips…

the fathers took little interest in their children’s education and may have been absent, fishing or hunting, or working outdoors while the children were small, so the brides taught them to speak. how do you teach a child to say ‘polis’ when the nearest you yourself can get is chailleach, or kali, or coll, and sometimes even the l was reduced to a y or j, when it wasn’t just a w or a u or a oo anyway. and these kids taught their kids the language their mothers taught them. so they became the original q- celts though i prefer to refer to their language as a-labiate as distinct from the labiate forms that the p-celts with their full lips were having no trouble at all with. so when they came south and found their mothertongue strangely be-p’d they rejected the notion that their q-forms were wrong, and so the battle was on. depending on who your companions were it was either poll or coll, and where fists were knuckly and tempers uncertain it wasn’t worth your while to be wrong. homer probably knew that apollo was achilles, (the vowels went every which way under the influence of different accents) but today’s historians and mythologists, your good self excepted, and others who have had the simple sanity to read and agree utterly with the article at still haven’t penetrated to that juicy little piece and sucks to them for their stupidity, i say.

hiss, dorian: now, now, etty, i say, that’s a bit strong.

moloji, etty: well it’s so very provoking. one hesitates to say ‘they are all dickheads’, but . . .

hiss, dorian: look, we’ll have to stop here, etty. we’re already five hundred words over the limit and. . .

moloji, etty: wait on. i haven’t got to the main point yet. you see, frost-bite wasn’t all. there was sunburn, too, affecting the p-celts, and making them say f and v for p and b. and by the time they all got together, they had a full array of syllables all meaning the same or nearly the same, either a polis or some feature of it, or a person from a polis. they had kells and kils and cells and sells and sols and suls and syls and sals and thells and theos and dells and dals and dails and thales and zells and zeals and challs and hells all over the map. they had pells and polises and palaces and piles and bells and bailes and old baileys and bols and bills and fells and filidh and villas and phillys and files and fools, and mills and mulls and maels and and mhaols, pronounced like wheels, and williamses and oh, mobs more, and to stop fights, or because lip damage and its consequences had been so extreme, some of them reduced all cs and ps to hs or just dispensed with them altogether.

you see the polis was the main identifier of any person, so polglas, for example identified a person as a glass polis person – the glass trade was very rich, but the word comes from older words related to class and classic, and were educational as much as commercial, though often enough both. achilles just distinguished any polis person from someone who wasn’t a polis person, and the labiate form was apollo. but names like golgotha, helvetia, ballinderry, kildare etc specify which polis, using the local variant of the original pole word. so if you dropped the first letter, whichever it was, you tended to get a neutralish vowel which was so often prefixed to a noun of some sort that in some speeches (in spanish and arabic for example) it became a definite article, while in greece it became a prefix denoting general niceness or superiority. so euserbius’s first syllable meant either pole, pleasant or the. if anyone tells you they know better send ’em to me. tell ’em i’ve got a black belt in karate and . . .

hiss, dorian: thanks etty. shall we leave the rest till. . .

moloji, etty: and the second syllable means serb, aka sab, serf, seraph, sherrif, and any number of rellies, and the third one, ius, started out as a frost-damaged poles reduced to hells, with the vowel changed to i, as in hills, and the h dropped, and the ll reduced to u, as in ius, used as a suffix with its origin forgotten by the committee that put together euserbius’s name. so it means the serb. but serb hadn’t yet come to mean a citizen of serbia yet. there were serbs/serfs/seraphs/siabhras etc all over southern europe, and their extent has not yet been mapped. it’s a scandal, it really is.

hiss, dorian: well, thanks, etty. bBut I really must stop you here, though you’re obviously busting with more to say on the subj. sorry, you lot, we didn’t really get very far down page one, did we. oh well, more next time.

for homework, read homer on apollo and achilles and compare and contrast the two. then read the myth of the medusa and google the old ventriloquists’ song ‘can you say bread and butter without moving your lips’ and try it. try also ‘my mum made me mumble’.