His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the category “History”

From Voltaire’s Remarques sur l’histoire de Charles XII

Yesterday I stumbled upon an interesting pericope in Voltaire’s Remarques sur l’histoire de Charles XII. It concerns an assassination that almost happened, but was averted when the would-be victim, the Polish Count Poniatowski, having learned of his impending murder by men pretending to be drunks, contrived a welcome for his assassins that turned them from their plan. (Before the events of the text given here, he also armed himself with two “pistolets de poche”, in case, perhaps, his hospitable treatment failed to confound his assassins!) Below is the text from the edition, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, Paris, 1826, p. 511, available here.

voltair_hist_charles_xii_p511Here’s the French text re-typed:

Précisément vers le midi, selon qu’il avait été averti, il vit venir les prétendus ivrognes droit à sa tente. Dès qu’ils furent entrés, il les reçut poliment. Appelant ensuite ses domestiques, avec une alégresse contrefaite, pour leur ordonner d’apporter du café, du tabac, des confitures, etc., il pria instamment des Turcs de s’asseoir, et les força obligeamment de prendre du café, de fumer du tabac, etc. Ceux-ci, étonnés sans doute d’une telle réception chez un homme qu’il allaient assassiner, ne firent que se regarder les uns les autres, sans proférer une seule parole. Tout d’un coup, le premier d’entre eux, celui apparemment qui devait commencer l’exécution se leva brusquement, et dit aux autres: Heydy gidelem, ce qui veut dire: Allons-noun-en. En sortant il se tourna vers le comte Poniatowski, et lui dit: Ne kiafir sen, ce qui signifie: Tu es un païen extraordinaire.

And here’s my English translation:

Just near midday, as he had been informed, he saw the supposed drunks coming straight toward his tent. As soon as they had entered, he received them politely. Then calling his servants, with a counterfeit enthusiasm, to have them bring coffee, tobacco, jams, etc., he instantly asked the Turks to take a seat and forced them obligingly to have some coffee, to smoke some tobacco, etc. Those men, certainly amazed at such a reception by a man they had come to assassinate, did nothing but look at each other, without offering a single word. All of a sudden, the first among them, who was to have begun the execution, got up quickly and said to the others, Heydy gidelem, which means, “Let’s go.” Going out, he turned toward Count Poniatowski and said to him, Ne kiafir sen, which means, “You are an extraordinary pagan!”

My attention was drawn to the story both for the events themselves and for its charm, including the hospitable proffering of coffee and tobacco, but also for its accurate representation of the Turkish phrases recorded. The first phrase (“Come on, let’s go!”) would be هايدى گدءلم (haydi gidelim) in Ottoman orthography, and the second (“What an infidel you are!”) نه كافر سن (ne kâfir sen). (The form gidelim is 1pl. optative of گتمك gitmek to go.)

Xenophon on a barley-beer in Armenia

A preface. A few days ago I chanced upon an example of one of those infestations of the internet, a graphic with a quote attributed to some famous person. This one, due to the subject matter, caught my attention, and I thought it worth investigating a little further. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are often misquoted on the internet.” The bearded and tall-hatted president is also made to say, “The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can’t be sure of their accuracy.” Of these two humorous attributions, the former puts the facts more truly. As for the second, while the internet has provided a breeding ground for misattribution and garbled words even when the attribution is seemingly correct, it also provides, thanks to full-text searchability in various languages, the means to check any attribution for those with interest and energy to do so. That said, if we think someone else’s words so much worth sharing, if those words are in a citeable place, why not clearly indicate what the place is along with the words themselves? This is not pedantic overactivity: text editions, and often translations made on their basis, include easy ways — book, chapter, and section numbers, etc. — to point out the source of a text, and anyone quoting them thus sees them, and they do well to take the extra few seconds and extra few keystrokes to throw them in along with any quotation. (Of course, some proffered quotations do not even go so far as to indicate the work from which the quote might come, only the speaker.) So there is a series of concentric circles, the center being the quote itself, next perhaps the section number, then the chapter, then the book (in the older sense, e.g. the Odyssey having 24 books, Augustine’s Confessions 13), then the work with its unique title (as in De re rustica, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Toxophilus, A Canticle for Leibowitz), and the more precise we are when text-pointing, the better.

Back to the quote-graphic I mentioned. It will be found here. (The date 500 BC(E) in the title there is wrong, given the author’s lifetime: c. 430-c.350 BCE.) The words are said to be Xenophon‘s, and from his well-known work, which used to be youthful fodder of many a student of ancient Greek, the Anabasis. Unlike many such quote-graphics, this one thankfully does give an accurate citation (§ 4.5, and subsections 26-27, to be more precise), so its creator deserves our gratitude. A look at the work in question reveals the quote, but the surrounding sections are of equal interest so here they are in full, below the map, in Greek and English.

For the Greek text and a (somewhat different) translation, see Carleton L. Brownson, Xenophon, Anabasis, Books IV-VII, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1922), available at https://archive.org/details/xenophon04xenogoog and at the Perseus Project at http://tinyurl.com/loyzqux. The translation presented here has been adapted from Brownson’s. I have changed some of the wording and sentence structure and generally brought the translation more in line with the Greek text as given below. (For those that appreciate finer typography than is typically present on a webpage, here is a PDF of the Greek and my translation revised from Brownson: xenophon_beer_barley_armenia.)

P.S. I gave a talk on alcoholic beverages in Syriac literature some time ago, and the paper based on that lecture is available here. Found there are also a few references to alcoholic beverages elsewhere in the near / middle east besides Syriac.


The route of the Greeks in the Anabasis

Xenophon, Anabasis 4.5.25-34

Greek text
[25] αἱ δ᾽ οἰκίαι ἦσαν κατάγειοι, τὸ μὲν στόμα ὥσπερ φρέατος, κάτω δ᾽ εὐρεῖαι: αἱ δὲ εἴσοδοι τοῖς μὲν ὑποζυγίοις ὀρυκταί, οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι κατέβαινον ἐπὶ κλίμακος. ἐν δὲ ταῖς οἰκίαις ἦσαν αἶγες, οἶες, βόες, ὄρνιθες, καὶ τὰ ἔκγονα τούτων: τὰ δὲ κτήνη πάντα χιλῷ ἔνδον ἐτρέφοντο. [26] ἦσαν δὲ καὶ πυροὶ καὶ κριθαὶ καὶ ὄσπρια καὶ οἶνος κρίθινος ἐν κρατῆρσιν. ἐνῆσαν δὲ καὶ αὐταὶ αἱ κριθαὶ ἰσοχειλεῖς, καὶ κάλαμοι ἐνέκειντο, οἱ μὲν μείζους οἱ δὲ ἐλάττους, γόνατα οὐκ ἔχοντες: [27] τούτους ἔδει ὁπότε τις διψῴη λαβόντα εἰς τὸ στόμα μύζειν. καὶ πάνυ ἄκρατος ἦν, εἰ μή τις ὕδωρ ἐπιχέοι: καὶ πάνυ ἡδὺ συμμαθόντι τὸ πῶμα ἦν.

[28] ὁ δὲ Ξενοφῶν τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς κώμης ταύτης σύνδειπνον ἐποιήσατο καὶ θαρρεῖν αὐτὸν ἐκέλευε λέγων ὅτι οὔτε τῶν τέκνων στερήσοιτο τήν τε οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ ἀντεμπλήσαντες τῶν ἐπιτηδείων ἀπίασιν, ἢν ἀγαθόν τι τῷ στρατεύματι ἐξηγησάμενος φαίνηται ἔστ᾽ ἂν ἐν ἄλλῳ ἔθνει γένωνται. [29] ὁ δὲ ταῦτα ὑπισχνεῖτο, καὶ φιλοφρονούμενος οἶνον ἔφρασεν ἔνθα ἦν κατορωρυγμένος. ταύτην μὲν τὴν νύκτα διασκηνήσαντες οὕτως ἐκοιμήθησαν ἐν πᾶσιν ἀφθόνοις πάντες οἱ στρατιῶται, ἐν φυλακῇ ἔχοντες τὸν κώμαρχον καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ ὁμοῦ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς. [30] τῇ δ᾽ ἐπιούσῃ ἡμέρᾳ Ξενοφῶν λαβὼν τὸν κώμαρχον πρὸς Χειρίσοφον ἐπορεύετο: ὅπου δὲ παρίοι κώμην, ἐτρέπετο πρὸς τοὺς ἐν ταῖς κώμαις καὶ κατελάμβανε πανταχοῦ εὐωχουμένους καὶ εὐθυμουμένους, καὶ οὐδαμόθεν ἀφίεσαν πρὶν παραθεῖναι αὐτοῖς ἄριστον: [31] οὐκ ἦν δ᾽ ὅπου οὐ παρετίθεσαν ἐπὶ τὴν αὐτὴν τράπεζαν κρέα ἄρνεια, ἐρίφεια, χοίρεια, μόσχεια, ὀρνίθεια, σὺν πολλοῖς ἄρτοις τοῖς μὲν πυρίνοις τοῖς δὲ κριθίνοις. [32] ὁπότε δέ τις φιλοφρονούμενός τῳ βούλοιτο προπιεῖν, εἷλκεν ἐπὶ τὸν κρατῆρα, ἔνθεν ἐπικύψαντα ἔδει ῥοφοῦντα πίνειν ὥσπερ βοῦν. καὶ τῷ κωμάρχῳ ἐδίδοσαν λαμβάνειν ὅ τι βούλοιτο. ὁ δὲ ἄλλο μὲν οὐδὲν ἐδέχετο, ὅπου δέ τινα τῶν συγγενῶν ἴδοι, πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ ἐλάμβανεν.

[33] ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἦλθον πρὸς Χειρίσοφον, κατελάμβανον κἀκείνους σκηνοῦντας ἐστεφανωμένους τοῦ ξηροῦ χιλοῦ στεφάνοις, καὶ διακονοῦντας Ἀρμενίους παῖδας σὺν ταῖς βαρβαρικαῖς στολαῖς: τοῖς παισὶν ἐδείκνυσαν ὥσπερ ἐνεοῖς ὅ τι δέοι ποιεῖν.
[34] ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἀλλήλους ἐφιλοφρονήσαντο Χειρίσοφος καὶ Ξενοφῶν, κοινῇ δὴ ἀνηρώτων τὸν κώμαρχον διὰ τοῦ περσίζοντος ἑρμηνέως τίς εἴη ἡ χώρα. ὁ δ᾽ ἔλεγεν ὅτι Ἀρμενία.

English translation

[25] The houses here were underground, with an opening like that of a well, but spacious below, and while entrances had been dug for the beasts of burden, people went down by a ladder. In the houses were goats, sheep, cattle, chickens, and their young, and all the animals ate their fodder there in the houses. [26] There was also wheat, barley, beans, and barleywine in large bowls. These barley-corns were in the drink up to the brim, straws were in it, some larger and some smaller, without joints. [27] When someone was thirsty, they had to take these straws into their mouths and suck. It was quite pure unless it was diluted with water, yet quite pleasant when one was used to it.

[28] Xenophon made the chief of this village his dinner-guest and commanded him not to worry, telling him that he would not be deprived of his children, and that before they went away they would fill his house with provisions as compensation, if he should turn out to have directed the army well until they should reach another tribe. [29] He promised to do this and kindly told them where there was some wine buried. That night  all [Xenophon’s] soldiers, thus billeted, went to bed in plenty, with the village-chief under guard and his children all together within sight. [30]On the next day Xenophon took the village chief and set out [to visit] Cheirisophus. Whenever he passed a village, he would stop [to see about] those in the villages, and everywhere on arrival he found them to be sumptuously entertained and happy. The [people] did let them go from any place without setting lunch before them, [31] and there was nowhere where they did not set before them on the same table lamb, kid, pork, veal, and chicken, together with lots of bread, some wheat and some barley. [32] And whenever someone wanted kindly to drink to another’s health, they would take him to the bowl, and they had drink like an ox, having bent over and gulped it down. To the village-chief they offered the privilege of taking whatever he wanted. He accepted nothing, but whenever he saw one of his kinsmen, he would always take hold of him.

[33] When they got to Cheirisophus, on arrival they also found [those soldiers] billeted and crowned with wreaths of hay, and Armenian boys in their strange, foreign dress, serving them, and they were showing the boys what to do [by signs], as if they were deaf and dumb. [34] When Cheirisophus and Xenophon had greeted each other, they together asked the village-chief, through their Persian-speaking interpreter, what this land was. He replied that it was Armenia.

Old iron and wood

Today my family and I were fortunate enough to visit Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla, Alabama. It had probably been two decades or so since I’d last been there, but it was much the same as I remembered. This time I was armed with a camera, and here are a few photographs of its old inhabitants.IMG_5183 IMG_5184 IMG_5185 IMG_5186 IMG_5188 IMG_5189 IMG_5190 IMG_5191 IMG_5193 IMG_5194 IMG_5195 IMG_5196 IMG_5197 IMG_5198 IMG_5216 IMG_5220 IMG_5222

Underbelly of the bridge.

Underbelly of the bridge.


Conducting water to the mill-wheel.

Conducting water to the mill-wheel.

At the mill's wheel.

At the mill’s wheel.


On applejack

I’ve recently finished reading The Sun also Rises. There are a great many references to drinking, mostly wine in prodigious amounts, but also beer and Pernod. At least twice someone drinks a Jack Rose cocktail, which was unknown to me, so like a worthy explorer I looked around and found that the recipe’s main (in fact, only) alcohol is applejack, the old American colonial concoction made by freeze-distilling (hard) cider, that is, in wintertime gradually removing the chunks of ice that form in it, thus reducing its water component and strengthening everything else, including, of course, the alcoholic content. (I recall from Botany of Desire the observation that apples have not always had the predominant flavors they now have, and cider then and cider now, and by extension any applejack transmogrified therefrom, wouldn’t necessarily taste the same.) While I live in Minnesota, and could conceivably make my own applejack the old-fashioned way — assuming we actually have a proper winter next season — using some good natural hard cider (such as Crispin), it’s good to know that liquor stores also carry it already made, but given its comparative unknownness, it might take some hunting around to find. I don’t know how many brands produce applejack, but Laird’s seems to be the most widely available. According to the bottle’s label, William Laird first made a batch of it in 1698 in Monmouth, New Jersey. Laird & Co. is now in Scobeyville of the same state. Their product is said to have the residuum of six pounds of apples in every bottle, and it’s eighty proof. I’ve not tried it in any cocktail yet, or on ice, only a few sips neat. The first encounter is, of course, olfactory, one vaguely of American whiskey but with an unmistakeable overtone (not undertone) of apples. The taste, in my limited experience with it so far, at least, has sweetness, to be sure, but not too much, and its ease of potation belies, I suspect, its alcoholic strength.

Since applejack has some history to it, I thought it might be worthwhile to make a foray into some possible witnesses to its history. I’m somewhat surprised to find no reference to the libation in two dipsological books I have to hand, Kingsley Amis’ Everyday Drinking and Iain Gately’s Drink. Thanks, though, to Archive.org and Google Books, we all have impossibly voluminous libraries at our ready disposal, so I went to the latter to plunder it. The potion was known also by the names of Dew of the Orchard and Jersey Lightning, as we learn from History of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers Corn Exchange Regiment from their Engagement at Antietam to Appomattox (1905), p. 543. There are several other mentions of applejack in Civil War memoirs and stories. As soldiers traveled to parts of the country they’d never visited before, they learned of new local drinks, and in some places that meant applejack. One can easily imagine some folk song about applejack — along the the lines of the ecumenical (“Throw away your pills; it’ll cure all ills // Of pagan or Christian or Jew”) “Mountain Dew” for poitín; there’s another song of the same name on an analogous drink with a wholly different melody and lyrics performed by Flatt & Scruggs and perhaps others — but I’ve not come across one yet. George Arnold wrote a several-versed poem in approval of the drink (in Poems Grave and Gay, 1867, see here). Jerome Watrous’ little story “That Applejack Raid”, in Richard Epps and Other Stories (1906), pp. 138-141, has a bit on the drink. Information with an official air include a lengthy letter sent to the New York Times on applejack that was reprinted in the Internal Revenue Record and Customs Journal 25 (1879), pp. 314-315, and in journal published in London we see that the drink attracted attention not only in America: The Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry 12 (1893), pp. 169-170. Into the 20th century, St. Louis mixologist Thomas Bullock’s Ideal Bartender (1917) has at least three cocktails with applejack (I’ll certainly try the Applejack Sour).

There’s a nice post on applejack at the Cocktail Chronicles, complete with an excellent old advertisement and a sensational warning on the madness sure to consume anyone whose palate the beguiling drink bathes, and at least one of the currently available books for cider-making has some information on applejack: Anne Proulx and Lew Nichols, Cider. It’s clear from these resources, nineteenth-century to recent, that applejack was once an often drunk American drink, at least in some regions of the country. There’s no indication that it will any time soon return to its former notoriety, but the odd tippler may find it a worthwhile diversion or accompaniment.

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