Sunday, August 16, 2015

Some richness of the spirit

Here's a quote which made me pause for a moment while reading a pile of Poirot short stories I never got round to before.

‘You seem,’ Poirot said, ‘to be well acquainted with the culture of the marrow?’

‘Seen gardeners doing it when I’ve been staying in the country. But seriously, Poirot, what a hobby! Compare that to’ – his voice sank to an appreciative purr – ‘an easy-chair in front of a wood fire in a long, low room lined with books – must be a long room – not a square one. Books all round one. A glass of port – and a book open in your hand. Time rolls back as you read:’ he quoted sonorously:

Μὴτ ὃ αὐτε xυβερνὴτης ἐνὶ οὶνοπι πόντῳ

νῆα θοὴν ιθύνει ἐρεχθομένην ὰνέμοισι

He translated:

“By skill again, the pilot on the wine-dark sea straightens

The swift ship buffeted by the winds.” *

Of course you can never really get the spirit of the original.’

For the moment, in his enthusiasm, he had forgotten Poirot. And Poirot, watching him, felt suddenly a doubt – an uncomfortable twinge. Was there, here, something that he had missed? Some richness of the spirit? Sadness crept over him.

Agatha Christie - The Labours of Hercules (1947)

* Iliad


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Sackerson said...

So enriching.

Wildgoose said...

If you forgive a slight segue, the reason why Homer describes the sea as "wine-dark" wan't just to wax poetic, but because he had no other means of describing the sea's colour.

Ancient Greek lacked words to describe either blue or green.

Different languages assign colours to a set of categories and they add colours to these categories in the same sequence. I remember reading that Japanese only really started to distinguish between blue and green after the post-1945 US Occupation simply because the English-speaking Americans did.

Here's a recent article about language and colour.

Sackerson said...

I read long ago that yellow in German means a different range of colour.

Wildgoose said...

And of course that long room of books is now the endless stream to be found on the internet.

Continuing my segue into colour perception (with apologies), here is the article I read mentioning how recently Japanese separated blue from green.


Wildgoose said...

I don't know about German and Yellow, but I do know that Russian distinguishes between light-blue and dark-blue, with separate words for separate "colours".

A K Haart said...

Wildgoose - thanks for the link. It's an interesting subject, one I've come across but never explored. Makes one wonder about the accuracy of translation.

Sackers - I've never heard that. Slight differences presumably.

James Higham said...

Ancient Greek lacked words to describe either blue or green.

Exactly what I was going to point out, from a book which Stephen Fry prefaced in 2006. Though that was about the blue, not the green.

A K Haart said...

James - perhaps their word for "sea" was enough, so the sea is sea-coloured. Sometimes it is dark - as red wine is dark.