His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

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.

https://i1.wp.com/www.gutenberg.org/files/26390/26390-h/images/map1.jpg

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.

From Conan Doyle’s “Lot № 249”

https://i1.wp.com/img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/t0/t534.jpgI recently got a used copy of Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural, ed. Henry Mazzeo, with illustrations by Edward Gorey (1968). I’m about a third of the way through it and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s “Lot № 249” (pp. 61-93), first published in 1892, is so far, and will probably remain, a favorite. (Text online here.) Here are a few especially fine lines:

  • “Yet when we think how narrow and how devious this path of nature is, how dimly we can trace it, for all our lamps of science, and how from the darkness which girds it round great and terrible possibilities loom ever shadowly upwards, it is a bold and confident man who will put a limit to the strange by-paths into which the human spirit may wander.” (62)
  • “…but apart from their dress no one could look at their hard-cut, alert faces without seeing that they were open-air men — men whose minds and tastes turned naturally to all that was manly and robust.” (63)
  • “They knew each other very well–so well that they could sit now in that soothing silence which is the very highest development of companionship.” (63)
  • “There’s something damnable about him — something reptilian. My gorge always rises at him. I should put him down as a man with secret vices — an evil liver.” (64)
  • Of a textbook of anatomy: “…plunged into a formidable, green-covered volume, adorned with great, colored maps of that strange, internal kingdom of which we are the hapless and helpless monarchs.” (65)
  • “With his firm mouth, broad forehead, and clear-cut, somewhat hard-featured face, he was a man who, if he had no brilliant talent, was yet so dogged, so patient, and so strong that he might in the end overtop a more showy genius.” (66)
  • “What a chap you are to stew! I believe an earthquake might come and knock Oxford into a cocked hat, and you would sit perfectly placid with your books among the ruins.” (75)
  • “He has spoiled my night’s reading, and that’s reason enough, if there were no other, why I should steer clear of him in the future.” (77)
  • “Bellingham’s face when he was in a passion was not pleasant to look upon.” (77)
  • “…as he was a bachelor, fairly well-to-do, with a good cellar and a better library, his house was a pleasant goal for a man who was in need of a brisk walk.” (80)
  • “With his fat, evil face he was like some bloated spider fresh from the weaving of his poisonous web.” (84)
  • The story’s closing line: “But the wisdom of men is small, and the ways of nature are strange, and who shall put a bound to the dark things which may be found by those who seek for them?” (93)

In addition, on p. 63 is the usage of “liquor” as a verb (= to drink liquor): “I don’t liquor when I’m training.” (For some other examples, see the OED s.v., mng. 6, where it is said to be slang.)

Conan Doyle is known, of course, especially for the Sherlock Holmes stories, but there’s more to his œuvre than that, and this story merits Mazzeo’s selection and reprinting in Hauntings, as well as, perhaps, your reading.

Some online sources for classical Arabic poetry

I posted this page a few weeks ago that lists several easily accessible (older) books for studying Arabic poetry. In case anyone interested has missed it so far, now they are informed. Many of the sources have Arabic text, but there are also a few translations. Enjoy!

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.

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Conducting water to the mill-wheel.

Conducting water to the mill-wheel.

At the mill's wheel.

At the mill’s wheel.

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Mark the music

From an enquiry in the OED on the word “savage” I was led to a line from The Merchant of Venice, which in turn led me to the broader context in Act V of the play. Here is a delightful part of Act V, sc. i about the effects of music.

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The image above is from this edition, which exhibits such fine typography that I thought it worth giving as such, rather than retyping it; the same text can be found in the original-spelling edition from Oxford, p. 506, and here it is in modernized orthography (from here):

JESSICA

I am never merry when I hear sweet music.

LORENZO

The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn’d to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

I don’t know that this is one of the better known parts of the play, but it deserves to be.

https://i0.wp.com/www.artdaily.org/imagenes/2012/12/04/dallas-2.jpg

Orpheus mosaic from Edessa (dated 194 CE)

Recent photos, mostly snow

This is on a very frozen lake. I like it because there is a focus on the children (all on the left side), but that it also gives a hint as to how huge the sky can seem in Minnesota.

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Pre-de-corking of some French wine. Nothing particularly meaningful about 2006 as opposed to its neighboring years, but I thought it would make a cool shot.

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I took this a few days ago for my mother, who lives in a place where snow rarely falls. It doesn’t quite show how the snow sparkled like glitter, both in the air and on the ground, but there is some of it. The morning sun is just peeking in at the top of the photo, and the tree casts its spreading shadow all the way to the viewer’s feet.

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This ice-hole — be careful how you pronounce that — forms several times every winter at a place where melting snow and ice from the roof drip onto the inches of snow on the ground, itself too thick to be easily erased. This one, here full deep and reaching to the rocks below, even shows the no-longer-frozen snow giving in to gravity, a drop at a time.

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A couple of large books, so large that they must rest supinely. If this doesn’t make you love old-style numerals, I don’t know what will.

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This is one of my favorite photos that I’ve taken in the past year or so. Again on the frozen lake. He has stopped and seems to look at the chapel ahead, and he’s surrounded by snow, ice, cold. He stands out in his yellow mantle. No one else is near. Is he wondering what’s in the chapel, why it’s there, whether to go on ahead? Is he tired, glad, surprised, disappointed? Is he on a pilgrimage to this place, or does the planned end of his road lie elsewhere, this building in the woods an unexpected find? Is he the first one to come to it, or does he know there are others there?

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Nullus locus dulcior

To begin with, for those that care, the title is a paraphrase of Cicero, “Nunc vero nec locus tibi ullus dulcior esse debet patria…” (Epist. Fam. IV.9.3, “Now, indeed, no place should be sweeter to you than your homeland…”). I borrow those fine words to talk about my homeland.

What it looks like in Minn. now.

What it looks like in Minn. now.

I’m a native of Alabama, but I’ve lived in Minnesota for the past two and a half years. On the morning that I write this, at my northern residence, I saw, the temperature was 1°F. Snow has been on the ground since November and all of the water seen out-of-doors, most obviously Minnesota’s myriad lakes, have been solidly slick and frozen, and with Minnesota’s winter comes a cold unknown in Alabama, a coldness that the clichéd “bitter cold” doesn’t even ably describe. Lest, dear readers, you imagine that Minnesota’s charms, even in winter, have been lost on this writer, know well that I’ve found much to like there that will not easily escape my memory, but for now I dwell on things Alabam(i)an. Incidentally, being unable to avoid citing another line in Latin, there are occasions in Minnesota when I have empathy for Ovid, whose words

Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli (Tristia V.10.37)

Here, I’m a barbarian, because I’m understood by no one.

fit well my placement in a sometimes strange land, and I’m sure the feeling would be found mutual, if those Minnesotans with whom I have regular contact were asked. (I purposely do not quote the following line, lest I give the impression that I consider my current fellow-citizens of Minnesota are stolidi!)

I went back to my patria for a brief sojourn, the direct cause itself not being a welcome one, but one attended by a number of benefits, some foreseen, some unforeseen. It always lends refreshment to return home, and neither did this trip fail to refresh. The time spent with family members, the freedom from regular structured work, the blue — as opposed to gray, as commonly this time of year in Minnesota — sky, against which the bright clouds are sharply set, the more flavorful food; all these things made it a fine and needed trip for me, but not only for me, since my wife and children also reckon it a definite refuge of safety, sweetness, and deep recognition, even though they do not have the years of experience spent there that I have, years polished in a way that only childhood can. This solidarity makes visits there all the better.

Some IPA I like, hitherto not seen in Minn., but readily drinkable in Ala.!

Some IPA I like, hitherto not seen in Minn., but readily drinkable in Ala.!

Lunch with my mother.

Lunch with my mother.

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I enjoyed several cigars and my pipe in the relatively warm weather, including one cigar with my grandfather, eighty-seven years old and whom I’ve not seen in too long a time. He is retired now, but worked most of his life as a carpenter. He went to school only through the eighth grade, and had to begin working all the time at a young age to provide for his family. I always enjoy talking with him, not only because of our shared familial history, but to hear of his experiences, and that in his accent and idiolect, which I appreciate both as his grandson and as a linguist. I confess that I was surprised to hear him use the word “brogue”, a word I don’t think I’ve heard anyone in my family use before, and a word rarely heard from the mouth of someone that reached only the eighth grade.

Talking with my grandfather.

Talking with my grandfather.

A giant cow spotted on the way through Wisc.

A giant cow spotted on the way through Wisc.

Because the number in our traveling party was large, we traveled by road rather than air. As you can imagine, the road from central Minnesota to central Alabama is no short road. My children, fortunately, are usually hardy travelers who only rarely complain overmuch. The way down wasn’t eventful, but on the way back, we met some nasty roads in Illinois and Wisconsin, thanks to an assault of snow, which led to de-roaded cars left and right and a truck pulling two trailers on its side and blocking traffic south.

Snowy travel on the return trip.

Snowy travel on the return trip.

I’m now back in Minnesota, but my eyes are patiently turned southward, looking forward to the next stay there, where there will surely again be more meetings of this and that person, of south and midwest, and of experiences all around of different ages and memories.

Here’s a post I wrote a few weeks ago that I thought might interest other readers: it’s on a short Arabic text (written in Syriac letters, a phenomenon known as Garshuni) that lists the effects of wine on the body and soul; English translation provided, along with images from the manuscript. Enjoy! Comments welcome.

hmmlorientalia

Well-known are the biblical praises of wine from the Psalter, “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps 104:15, ויין ישׂמח לבב אנוש, καὶ οἶνος εὐφραίνει καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου) and from the line in a parable, where a vine says, “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?” (Judges 9:13, החדלתי את תירושי המשׂמח אלהים ואנשים, B Μὴ ἀπολείψασα τὸν οἶνόν μου τὸν εὐφραίνοντα θεὸν καὶ ἀνθρώπους, but Α differently, Ἀφεῖσα τὸν οἶνόν μου, τὴν εὐφροσύνην τὴν παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν ἀνθρώπων). I was pleased and surprised recently to find a few lines in Arabic (Garšūnī) from a fifteenth-century Psalter (parallel Syriac and Garšūnī) in the collection of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem (no. 10, dated 1474/5) that list wine’s effects: five for the body and five for the soul. These lines are written at a ninety degree angle to the rest of the text, but they do…

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Casting language into the atmosphere

While perusing the latest National Geographic this morning, I came across a notable photograph. Here it is from the website:

These two students, surrounded around and above by open air and light, project their voices out into this openness, their lungs, breath, throat, and mouth muscles, all eye- and brain-directed, catapult words of another language, a language becoming their own, right into the universe, not the least part of which is their own ears.

Two things struck me when I saw the photograph. First, I was reminded of the possibly legendary rhetorico-athletic exercises that Demosthenes supposedly practiced to overcome his natural difficulties in speaking:

…τὴν μὲν ἀσάφειαν καὶ τραυλότητα τῆς γλώττης ἐκβιάζεσθαι καὶ διαρθροῦν εἰς τὸ στόμα ψήφους λαμβάνοντα καὶ ῥήσεις ἅμα λέγοντα, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν ἐν τοῖς δρόμοις γυμνάζεσθαι καὶ ταῖς πρὸς τὰ σιμὰ προσβάσεσι διαλεγόμενον καὶ λόγους τινὰς ἢ στίχους ἅμα τῷ πνεύματι πυκνουμένῳ προφερόμενον· εἶναι δ᾽ αὐτῷ μέγα κάτοπτρον οἴκοι, καὶ πρὸς τοῦτο τὰς μελέτας ἐξ ἐναντίας ἱστάμενον περαίνειν.

He used to correct and drive away his mumbling and his speech disorder by putting pebbles in his mouth and then reciting speeches. He used to exercise his voice by discoursing while running or going up steep places, and by reciting sentences or verses at a single breath. Moreover, he had in his house a large mirror, and in front of this he used to stand and go through his speech-exercises. (Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes 11.1-2; translation adapted from that of Bernadotte Perrin)

Secondly, I was visually reminded of how important, not to mention fun, it is to read aloud, with care to the text’s meaning and even forcefully, both as regular practice in languages you know well, even your own, and also for languages you’re learning; in the second case, it is naturally needful to have some standard against which to compare your fledgling pronunciation and fluency of sound, granted the variety of voice that may occur even across the spectrum of one language. This vocal shadow-boxing, whether in your native language or another, really can be enlivening and helpful in knitting together eyes, brain, and ears.

Rather than writing anything more, I’m off to do some reading aloud.

Proust II

The next paragraph from À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, pt. I. Read on! As always, your responses to the passage are welcome in the comments section. And as an addendum to the previous post, here is the famous Summarize Proust Competition from Monty Python, which I neglected to mention there!

Quant au professeur Cottard, on le reverra, longuement, beaucoup plus loin, chez la Patronne, au château de la Raspelière. Qu’il suffise actuellement, à son égard, de faire observer ceci : pour Swann, à la rigueur le changement peut surprendre puisqu’il était accompli et non soupçonné de moi quand je voyais le père de Gilberte aux Champs-Élysées, où d’ailleurs ne m’adressant pas la parole il ne pouvait faire étalage devant moi de ses relations politiques (il est vrai que s’il l’eût fait, je ne me fusse peut-être pas aperçu tout de suite de sa vanité car l’idée qu’on s’est faite longtemps d’une personne bouche les yeux et les oreilles ; ma mère pendant trois ans ne distingua pas plus le fard qu’une de ses nièces se mettait aux lèvres que s’il eût été invisiblement dissous entièrement dans un liquide ; jusqu’au jour où une parcelle supplémentaire, ou bien quelque autre cause amena le phénomène appelé sursaturation ; tout le fard non aperçu cristallisa, et ma mère, devant cette débauche soudaine de couleurs déclara, comme on eût fait à Combray, que c’était une honte, et cessa presque toute relation avec sa nièce). Mais pour Cottard au contraire, l’époque où on l’a vu assister aux débuts de Swann chez les Verdurin était déjà assez lointaine ; or les honneurs, les titres officiels viennent avec les années ; deuxièmement, on peut être illettré, faire des calembours stupides, et posséder un don particulier qu’aucune culture générale ne remplace, comme le don du grand stratège ou du grand clinicien. Ce n’est pas seulement en effet comme un praticien obscur, devenu, à la longue, notoriété européenne, que ses confrères considéraient Cottard. Les plus intelligents d’entre les jeunes médecins déclarèrent – au moins pendant quelques années, car les modes changent étant nées elles-mêmes du besoin de changement – que si jamais ils tombaient malades, Cottard était le seul maître auquel ils confieraient leur peau. Sans doute ils préféraient le commerce de certains chefs plus lettrés, plus artistes, avec lesquels ils pouvaient parler de Nietzsche, de Wagner. Quand on faisait de la musique chez Mme Cottard, aux soirées où elle recevait, avec l’espoir qu’il devînt un jour doyen de la Faculté, les collègues et les élèves de son mari, celui-ci, au lieu d’écouter, préférait jouer aux cartes dans un salon voisin. Mais on vantait la promptitude, la profondeur, la sûreté de son coup d’œil, de son diagnostic. En troisième lieu, en ce qui concerne l’ensemble de façons que le professeur Cottard montrait à un homme comme mon père, remarquons que la nature que nous faisons paraître dans la seconde partie de notre vie n’est pas toujours, si elle l’est souvent, notre nature première développée ou flétrie, grossie ou atténuée ; elle est quelquefois une nature inverse, un véritable vêtement retourné. Sauf chez les Verdurin qui s’étaient engoués de lui, l’air hésitant de Cottard, sa timidité, son amabilité excessives, lui avaient, dans sa jeunesse, valu de perpétuels brocards. Quel ami charitable lui conseilla l’air glacial ? L’importance de sa situation lui rendit plus aisé de le prendre. Partout, sinon chez les Verdurin où il redevenait instinctivement lui-même, il se rendit froid, volontiers silencieux, péremptoire quand il fallait parler, n’oubliant pas de dire des choses désagréables. Il put faire l’essai de cette nouvelle attitude devant des clients qui, ne l’ayant pas encore vu, n’étaient pas à même de faire des comparaisons, et eussent été bien étonnés d’apprendre qu’il n’était pas un homme d’une rudesse naturelle. C’est surtout à l’impassibilité qu’il s’efforçait, et même dans son service d’hôpital, quand il débitait quelques-uns de ces calembours qui faisaient rire tout le monde, du chef de clinique au plus récent externe, il le faisait toujours sans qu’un muscle bougeât dans sa figure d’ailleurs méconnaissable depuis qu’il avait rasé barbe et moustaches.

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