Bear cub

Conrad Gesner: Historia animalium. Bear
One of my favorite readings by Erasmus is the De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione dialogus (Dialogue on the correct Latin and Greek pronunciation). The dialogue takes place between a lion and a bear. It is them who weigh up the pros and cons of the “Erasmian” pronunciation still in use in today’s erudite circles, and of the Modern Greek pronunciation which, according to the dialogue, was “reconstructed” by Erasmus himself, but according to a later report by Vossius he knew it from the news about some Greeks “of wonderful erudition” visiting Paris not much before. The lion and the bear discuss all these matters in the most refined Humanist Latin and with the most erudite Humanist pedantry. The dialogue begins like this.

Obolus from Caria-Mylasa, with lion’s head, c. 450-400 B.C.URSUS: Sit felix occursus, optime Leo, nam totos sex menses te non vidi. LEO: Istuc non temere precaris, Urse, neque enim quibuslibet bene cessit occurrisse Leoni. VR. Nae venuste, Leo, Imo ne Urso quidem. LE. Istuc sane malo tibi credere quam facere periculum, tametsi legimus Leonem inter bestias fortissimum ad nullius occursum expavescere. Caeterum Divinae literae testantur esse formidabilem occursum Ursae, cui sint erepti catuli. VR. Quaeso quid loquuntur de Ursa? LE. Liber Regnorum secundus sic habet: Viros fortissimos & amaro animo, veluti si ursa raptis catulis in sylva saeviat. VR. Quid propterea? LE. Solomon paroemiographus hunc in modum loquitur: Expedit magis occurrere ursae, raptis foetibus, quam stulto confidenti. Et apud Osee Prophetam ita minitatur Deus: Occurram eis quasi ursa raptis catulis. UR. Sit igitur impavidus Leo, quum bestia bestiis occurrit. Nam si qua fides apologis, Leo bestia fassus est formidabilem hominis occursum. Nunc seculum est aureum, quo Leonis Urso, Ursi Leoni laetus ac faustus est occursus. Opportune vero catulorum facta mentione mihi redigis in memoriam ego tibi magnopere gratulor. LE. Quo tandem nomine? UR. Quod tibi catulus domi natus est. LE. Hoc omen avertant Superi, ut mihi catulus dominetur. UR. Ajo dómi nâtum; audis accentum acutum in priore voce, in posteriore circumflexum. LE. At istud magis etiam abominandum. An tibi videor canis? UR. Minime, Leonem esse te non potes inficiari. Habent autem & Leones catulos. LE. Habent profecto, verum habent & Ursi.
Coin of Hadrian with bear’s headBEAR: Let our encounter be happy, oh excellent Lion, since I have not seen you for six entire months. LION: This is no empty supplication, oh Bear, since to most people it is no luck to encounter the Lion. BE: Of course, Lion. But not even the Bear! LI: This I believe you rather than getting in trouble, even if we read that the Lion is the strongest among all animals and he never retreats from any encounter. Nevertheless the divine Scripture attests that it is terrible to encounter the she-bear robbed of her cubs. BE: Please, tell me, what do they say about the she-bear? LI: It is written in the second book of the Kings: They are mighty men and they are fierce, like a she-bear robbed of her cubs in the forest. BE: And what else? LI: Solomon, the collector of excellent sayings spoke thus: It is better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a self-confident fool. And in the prophet Hoseas it is God who threatens like this: I will encounter them like the bear robbed of her cubs. BE: Well then, the Lion should stay undisturbed, when beast meets beast. For if we can give trust to animal fables, a beast should rather fear the encounter with the man. But now we live in a golden age, when the Lion is happy to meet the Bear and the Bear the Lion. But it was very opportune to mention the cubs, so you have reminded me to congratulate you. LI: On what reason? BE: On the occasion that a kid was born to you at home [domi natur]. LI: Let the gods keep far from me this bad omen that a kid would rule me [dominatur]. BE: I said dómi nâtum: you can hear the acute accent on the first syllabe and the inflexed tone on the second one, can’t you? LI: That would be an even more abominable thing! Or do I seem a dog to you? BE: Not to the least extent. You could not even deny of being a Lion. But even lions have kid, isn’t it. LI: Yes, really, just like bears do.

The Lion, animal of Judah appears to be much more well up in the Ancient Testament than in Classical Latin. The reason of his misunderstanding is that the Latin catulus is mostly used in the sense of the young of a dog, a puppy – yes, this is where the family name of both the Golden Age poet Catullus and the conspirator Catilina comes from, just like that of the Fabius from the bean, of the Ciceros from the pea, and of the Horatius from the garden: Latins were down-to-earth people –, but this same word was generally used for the young of any other four-footed animal. Like that of the lion for example, which equally howls and preys as catulus leonis in the Genesis, the Judges, the Psalms, Isaiah or Jeremiah.

Lion on a Greek coin
Or that of the bear, as the Lion attests it after realizing his mistake. Not only in the Vulgate, but also in the Latin poets, for example in Ovid, where the cyclops Polyphemus tries (in vain) to melt the heart of the nymph Galatea like this:

Inveni geminos, qui tecum ludere possint,
Inter se similes, vix ut dignoscere possis,
Villosae catulos in summis montibus ursae.

(Metamorphoses, XIII.834-836)....
I came upon two bear cubs that you can play with
they are twins: so alike you can hardly separate them
cubs of a shaggy bear, found upon the hilltop.

– to which the erudite Petrus Burmannus adds this sour comment in the great Paris edition of the Ovidii opera omnia of 1822: “Ad ludendum catuli ursae non nisi Polyphemo idonei videri poterant.” – “To actually play with bear cubs, this is an idea that can come only to Polyphemus’ mind.”

Obolus of Mantinea with bear’s head, c. 490-470 B.C.
The word catulus was associated with the young of the dog only by custom and not by etymology. For the proper diminutive form of dog – canis – should be caniculus, whose feminine form canicula means “extremely hot weather” in Hungarian and “summer holidays” – каникулы – in Russian, as it is in hot August that the sun rises in the constellation of the Lesser Dog. According to Walde’s Latin etymological dictionary, catulus comes from an ancient Indoeuropean *qatos meaning “young of animals” in general, and it still survives in words like Russian котиться, “give birth” or the Irish cadla and Old High German hatele, both meaning “goatling.”

Most languages, however, besides their own word for “young of animals” also use a separate term for the young of some animals or groups of animals. In Hungarian, for example, the general term is kölyök, but the kölyök of the bear – catulus ursae – is called bocs (pronounce “boch”). Where does it come from?

Footprint of black bear
The three volume Hungarian etymological dictionary A magyar nyelv történeti-etimológiai szótára (1967) like so many times, leaves us hanging with this term as well:

bocs 1792: „Bots: medve kölyök” (SzD.). J: 1. 1792: ’medvebocs; Bärenjunges’ (l. fent); 2. 1838: ’bizonyos állatok kicsinye; Junges gewisser Tierarten’ (Tsz.); 3. 1858: ’nyers vas- vagy acélöntvény-tömb; Dachel, Ofensau’ (Toldy: Műszótár: NSz.).
Ismeretlen eredetű. Eleinte erdélyi tájszóként jelentkezik. A szász E.
botsch ’koca, disznó’ és a magyar szó viszonya – jelentéstani okból – nem világos; bár föltehető, hogy összefüggenek, s hogy a magyar az átadó. – Az 1. és a 2. jelentés rokonsága nyilvánvaló; a 3. névátvitel eredménye lehet, de esetleg még megvizsgálandó az erdélyi szász viszonthatás vagy a német mintára történő tükörszó-alkotás lehetősége is; vö. ném. Ofensau ’vasöntvény, bocs’, Bär ’rosszul sikerült öntvény’. A 3. jelentéssel kapcsolatban vö. medve. – Honfoglalás utáni török jövevényszóként való magyarázata nem valószínű, kaukázusi, német és román származtatása téves.
Melich: Nyr. 24: 65, 557; Lumtzer–Melich: DOLw. 70, 305; Munkácsi: Ethn. 16: 79, KSz. 6:210; EtSz.; SzófSz; Rásonyi: NyK. 51: 102. (Drăganu: Rom. 68.)

bocs 1792: Bots: young of the bear” (SzD.). J: 1. 1792: ‘medvebocs; Bärenjunges’ (see above); 2. 1838: ‘young of certain animals; Junges gewisser Tierarten’ (Tsz.); 3. 1858: ‘a raw block of cast iron or steel; Dachel, Ofensau’ (Toldy: Műszótár: NSz.).
Of unknown origin. It is first documented as a Transylvanian dialectal word. The relation between the Transylvanian Saxon botsch ‘sow, pig’ and the Hungarian word is unclear, although they are probably connected, and the Hungarian term was the origin of the Saxon one. – The relation between meaning 1 and 2 is obvious. Meaning 3 can be the result of a translation of the name, although the possibility of the reaction of the Saxon word or a loan translation on German model cannot be excluded either: cf. German Ofensau ‘block of cast iron, bocs’, Bär ‘an abortive block of cast iron’. For meaning 3 see also the entry medve (bear). – Its attribution to a post-Conquest Turkish loan word is improbable, its attempts of derivation from German, Romanian or the Caucasus are mistaken.
Melich: Nyr. 24: 65, 557; Lumtzer–Melich: DOLw. 70, 305; Munkácsi: Ethn. 16: 79, KSz. 6:210; EtSz.; SzófSz; Rásonyi: NyK. 51: 102. (Drăganu: Rom. 68.)

We have seen that the Hungarian Etymological Dictionary has been compiled by a very strong Finno-Ugrist lobby which, for historical and political reasons reaching back to the 19th century, looks with extreme suspicion on any research of the Turkish, Iranian and other Eastern contributions to the Hungarian language – although there were a lot like this. We already know that “of unknown origin” in the HED means “unfortunately its Finno-Ugrian origin cannot be proved.” But what other possible origins exist?

Meaning 3 – “a raw block of cast iron or steel” – immediately reminds one of the Italian word boccia meaning a solid globe or bowl, and bozza meaning a roughed out (stone) block, a work hew out. However, the editors of the HED were not reminded of anything like that.

But now meanings 1 and 2 are much more interesting for us: the cub of the bear, or a cub/young animal in general. And these also remind me of a possibility which I cannot prove, but I would consider it well worthy of an etymological research. And this is the Persian word بچه bache/boche, “child / young of animals.”

Bears. Persian miniature. Khorasan, 16th centuryBears. Persian miniature. Khorasan, 16th century (from here)

The fact that Iranian words were assimilated into Hungarian is attested, apart from a number of entries in the HED, by a glossary published in 1999 by the Turcologist Péter Sára on the Hungarian words of Iranian origin, which lists on its 120 pages mostly words regarded as “of unknown origin” by the HED. These words come from a centuries long coexistence of Hungarian tribes with Iranian nomads, for example with Alans on the steppe, before the conquest of today’s Hungary in 896. It is by no chance that in the ancient legend of origins of the Hungarians – of which I want to write in a future post – the two broders Hunor and Magyar, forefathers of the Hun and of the Hungarian people, marry the daughters of an Alanian king.

The relation between Hungarian bocs and Iranian bache is made more probable by the fact that the Hungarian word also seems to have originally meant “child / young of animals” in general, and its meaning was limited to the young of the bear only later. The memory of the original meaning is kept in the frequently used term medvebocs “bear cub,” where the reference to medve, the bear, would be tautological if bocs only meant the young of the bear. As a counter-proof, there does exist in Hungarian a word which has always indicated the young of only one animal: the Slavic loanword bárány, lamb, which refers only to the young of the juh, sheep. This is obviously never used in the tautological form juhbárány.

This career of the word bocs is modelled by two other Hungarian words which originally also meant “young of animals” in general. The one is the Turkish loanword borjú, calf, which can refer beside the cattle to the young of a number of other animals of great size: teveborjú, szarvasborjú, elefántborjú, the young of the camel, of the deer, of the elephant. And the other is gida, goatling: kecskegida, szarvasgida, őzgida – the young of the goat, of the deer, of the roe.

The word gida is of course also regarded as “of unknown origin” in the HED, or more precisely, the dictionary offers two alternatives of origin. The one is the onomatope gidi-gidi, geda, gidu, traditionally used to call the goatling, while the other is the Biblical name Gideon, for – quote – “Gideon in the Bible cooked a goat as a sacrifice, and this is the reason why his name was transferred on the animal.” The fact that such an archaic theory, reminding of the times of the first Reformation when Hungarian language was related to ancient Hebrew by erudite zealots could find its way to the dictionary indicates the level of preparation of the HED. Nevertheless, the idea that the word gida can be related to the Indoeuropean cadla, hatele, Gitzel/Kitz, all meaning originally “young of animals” and later “goatling,” thus going through the same carrier like borjú and bocs, strangely did not even occur to the editors.

And finally, to make this Babelian fair complete, here you are an absurd short story from the Czech author Michal Ajvaz, which peculiarly unites the two meanings of Hungarian bocs: the bear cub and the raw, unworked, heavy block.

The friendly bear. Persian miniature, 18th c.The friendly bear. Persian miniature, 18th c.

The bear cub

I keep dragging along a bear cub in a backpack on my back. The bear cub is quite heavy and it keeps stirring in the pack. This makes me tired and exhausted. With a bear cub on my back I cannot pay enough attention to anything. So I do not have any lust of anything. If they came to tell me that I won a trip to Paradise, perhaps in the first moment I would be happy, but then I would immediately realize that even there I should carry on a heavy bear cub on my back, and all my joy would be gone away. I would say thanks, but would tell that “for family reasons I cannot participate.” How many experiences I have lost because of the bear cub! I could have been a guest on a party in the gardens of the seaside villas where the guests entertain themselves by throwing film stars in evening dress into the swimming pool. With the bear cub on my back I was not permitted to enter, or I myself did not try to get in anywhere.

Since long I have recognized that I should put down the backpack together with the bear cub, especially as I already don’t remember why I had started to carry it along, and because the bear cub did not get familiar with me. It lives in its small world, gruntin for itself, and does not care for me. But it is very difficult to suddenly change something that one has done for almost all his life. It requires much more courage than look into the face of some unexpected danger. If I pass by the terrible entrance of the Labyrinth of Radlice, avoided by anyone else, I often enter just by curiosity, and prick the sleeping Minotaurus with my umbrella. I can peacefully have a chat with the Gorgo Medusa which enters into the restaurant and sits at my table, while the other guests by screaming flee away. However, I found not enough courage to get rid of my backpack. What a small thing the Gorgo Medusa is in comparison with the bear cub.

In certain moments I suddenly stop on the street and I tell to myself: “How could I be such an idiot to have dragged along this bear cub for nothing! I will go home right now, I put down the backpack and I don’t take it up any more.” And I am immediately overwhelmed by happiness. I imagine how I would run through the city, getting rid of the burden of several years, jumping high on the street like an astronaut on the Moon, up to the height of the second floor, and waving my hand to the people looking out of the windows. It is already late, but perhaps the doors of the seashore villas are not yet definitely closed, perhaps I manage to arrive to the party, perhaps I can throw at least one film star into the swimming pool.

After a short time, however, doubts fall on me and I tell to myself: “Calm down. Take your time. Look before you leap. It is not so simple to make such an important step. Measure twice, cut once. Think it over thoroughly. You have enough time. Wait a little bit.”

And I wait, and my courage slowly dissipates, and I keep strolling about the streets with a bear cub on my back.

3 comentarios:

Julia dijo...

Acabo de escribir un largo comentario que se borró sin explicaciones cuando quise publicarlo. ¿Pero quién sabe qué decía? Ya no lo recuerdo bien.
Te felicitaba por estas últimas entradas que por fin había tenido tiempo de leer. Alababa la estuctura de ésta que iba de Erasmo, apsando por la etimología húngara al maravilloso cuento del final.
Y balbuceaba unas preguntas, a raíz de la entrada anterior de los cuentos felinos y el diálogo entre animales de Erasmo, sobre la mirada que tendrían en el Renacimiento sobre sus mascotas. ¿Percibirían como nosotros esa conciencia de rasgos humanos que tanto nos gusta descubrir en los animales que nos acompañan?
Algo así, escribía, creo...

Studiolum dijo...

Escribir sobre agua, o, como lo hice nuestro Salvador, sobre arena, es la manera más humilde y menos presuntuosa de escribir, dice Erasmo. Así que no puedo hacer más que felicitarte con admiración.

Por cuanto a la pregunta, yo pienso que sí. Ciertamente te acuerdas de las muchas hojas volantes que representaban las desconveniencias de la sociedad en la figura de mascotas u otros animales de la casa (el gato y los topos, los perros, ovejas, cabras etc.) en vestido y con acciones humanos.

Julia dijo...

Sí, recuerdo esas imágenes, pero ésas son más bien figuras deudoras de las fábulas, en las que los animales no son más que cierto disfraz de los humanos, ¿no?
Yo me pregunto por esos sentimientos o pensamientos que a veces atribuimos o descubrimos en nuestras mascotas (animales reales) y que aparecían en las graciosas aventuras de los gatos rusos en la entrada previa, como el orgullo, la indiferencia, etc.
Mi madre, por ejemplo, sostiene –con total seriedad– sobre uno de sus perros al que tuvieron que castrar para tratar de tranquilizarlo (tenía una especial saña por los motociclistas y mordió a varios), que luego de la operación miraba con añoranza a las perras que pasaban "pensando" que debía sentir algo que ya no recordaba qué era...
No sé si se puede contestar a esta pregunta algo absurda, pero más allá de las locuras particulares de cada caso ¿cuándo se habrá empezado a pensar cosas así de los animales? Debe ser algo muy cultural y especialmente propio de nuestros tiempos modernos, creo.

(Me disculpo por las erratas que ahora descubro en mi primer comentario)