Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Let the Reader Understand

Mike Aubrey posted a few days back on “knowing” a language. He said, “Knowing a language as in fluency and knowing a language as in linguistic description are very different.” And Mike led off by pointing us to Eric B. Sowell’s post in which he said, “One of the verbs for ‘knowing’ something in Greek is γινσκω. . . The word is ambiguous. . . ”

Now, with all the humility that Eric calls for,
(and with all the humility that Mike suggests by saying there are “very different” ways of “knowing a language”),
I’d like to turn to another Greek word.

The word is νάγινσκω. It’s what we know in English as “read.” But it’s a funny word because in Greek it’s a compound word that suggests metaphorical meanings. It’s the combo of γινσκω [ginOskO, or “know”] and the prefix νά [ana-, or “re-” or maybe “top down”]. So it could be “know from the top down” or “know all over again.” Even for ancient Greek readers, it’s not a precisely defined and precisely “known” word. Nonetheless, the context, the application, has to do with digesting written or visually constructed or pictorial or graphic materials. In English today, we try to tidy that up by using our ambiguous but all-important words from Latin, “literacy” and “literature.”

Now let me show three instances, the three, in which Aristotle uses νάγινσκω in the Rhetoric. And then let’s “read” the four contexts in which a similar word is used by translators and authors in the Bible. (The Bekker pages and lines are 1407b 11; 1413b 13; and 1414a 19. The Bible references I’ll give below.)

First, Aristotle prescribes the following as he rails against the ambiguities in the writings of Heraclitus:

λως δ δε εανάγνωστον εναι τ γεγραμμένον κα εφραστον· στιν δ τ ατό·

George Kennedy translates that this way:

What is written should generally be easy to read and easy to speak—which is the same thing.”

(I think Kennedy loses the wordplay, which shows how much Aristotle unwittingly writes like Heraclitus, also ambiguously. But that’s another post for much later.)

Second, Aristotle prescribes “knowing how to speak good Greek” (which is how Kennedy translates τ μν γάρ στιν λληνίζειν πίστασθαι); he writes to define and to classify the different acceptable and unacceptable styles:

βαστάζονται δ ο ναγνωστικοί, οον Χαιρήμων (κριβς γρ σπερ λογογράφος), κα Λικύμνιος τν διθυραμβοποιν.

But [poets, translates Kennedy] who write for the reading public are [also] much liked, for example, Chaeremon (for he is as precise as a professional prose writer [logographos]), and Licymnius among the dithyrambic poets.”

Third, Aristotle is denouncing what Kennedy says is “demegoric style” of Greek, which is “like shadow-painting” in which “exactness is wasted work and the worse.” In contrast, Aristotle prescribes another style of speaking Greek:

μν ον πιδεικτικ λέξις γραφικωτάτη· τ γρ ργονατς νάγνωσις·

(Kennedy “reads” that this way: The epideictic style is most like writing; for its objective is to be read.”)

Now we fast forward several decades, to Alexandria (the namesake of conquering Alexander, Aristotle’s pupil), where the Hebrew scriptures are being translated. The commissioned translators take the Hebrew of Habakkuk (2:2) and put it into Greek as follows:

κα πεκρίθη πρός με κύριος κα επεν Γράψον ρασιν κα σαφς π πυξίον, πως διώκ ναγινώσκων ατά.

And the Lord answered me and said,
Write a vision,
And clearly on a tablet,
so that the reader might pursue them.”
(George E. Howard, NETS)

And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision, and [that] plainly on a tablet, that he that reads it may run.”
(Sir Lancelot Brenton)

Then we fast forward several more decades, to Jerusalem. Here’s Mark (13:14) translating Jesus with his own writerly commentary and instruction to the reader:

ταν δ δητε τ βδλυγμα τς ρημσεως στηκτα που ο δε-- ναγινσκων νοετω--ττε ο ν τ ουδαίᾳ φευγτωσαν ες τ ρη

When you see the ‘abomination of desolation’' standing where it should not--let the reader understand-then let those in Yehuda flee to the mountains,
(Willis Barnstone)

Likewise, there’s Matthew (24:15) translating Jesus translating Daniel, with the writer's commentary and instruction:

ταν ον δητε τ βδλυγμα τς ρημσεως τ ηθν δι Δανιλ το προφτου στς ν τπ γίῳ ( ναγινσκων νοετω)

So when you see the abomination of desolation
standing in the holy place,
foretold through Daniel the prophet
(let the reader understand),

Finally, there’s Revelation (1:3), with John translating a prophecy, with instructions and promises and warnings to the reader:

μακριος ναγινσκων κα ο κοοντες τος λγους τς προφητεας κα τηροντες τ ν ατ γεγραμμνα γρ καιρς γγς

Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are they who hear the words of this prophecy and who keep what is written in it. For the time is near.

Can we know from the top? Have we let the reader understand? Who is ναγινσκων? Are we blessed ο ναγνωστικοί?

1 comment:

Nathan Stitt said...

Looking at ἀνάγινώσκω, I agree that read/reading doesn't capture the full meaning. Depending on context I'd probably lean more towards one of these:

read aloud
read out loud
read orally
oral reading

For ὁ ἀναγινώσκων perhaps one of these:

public speaker