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Athenaeus and Alexarchus, the quondam conlanger

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Monday, October 8, 2001, 22:57
Okay, so I said I was going to investigate the story behind
this guy Alexarchus, the brother of Cassander the Diadokhos.
I couldn't find any English version of Athenaeus here at the
library, and the only Greek version I could find was an 1828
version (but presumably ancient literature doesn't change
too quickly, so that's not a problem).  Because many of y'all
are classicists and probably have access to a better Greek
lexicon than me, I'm going to quote the original Greek along
with my attempt at English translation.

Athenaeus Vol. III, 98.d-f

 "Toioûtos ê:n kaì Alexarkhos, ho Kasándrou toû Makedonías
 basileúsantos adelphós, ho té:n Ouranópolin kalouméne:n
 ktísas.  Historeî dè perì autoû He:rakleíde:s ho Lémbos en tê:
 triakostê: hebdóme: tô:n historiô:n légo:n hoúto:s : "Alexarkhos
 ho té:n Ouranópolin ktísas dialéktous idías eisé:nengken :
 orthrobóan men tòn alektruóna kalô:n kai brotokérte:n tòn kouréa,
 kaì tè:n drakhmè:n argurída, tè:n dè koínika he:merotrophída kaì
 tòn ké:ruka apúte:n."

 "Such also was Alexarchus, the brother of Cassander who had
 ruled over Macedonia, and who founded the so-called "City
 of Heaven". Concerning him Herakleides of Lembos has some
 discussion in the thirty-seventh of his inquiries, speaking
 in this way: 'After founding the City of Heaven, Alexarchus
 introduced* peculiar* dialects*: he calls the cock "the
 early-caller', the barber 'man-abuser'*, the drachma 'silver',
 while he calls the [koínika] 'the tamely-fed one'*, and the
 herald 'apute'*."

Much of this passage is lexically ambiguous or just vague,
which I have marked with asterisks in the translation.
For instance, "eisphero: [eisé:nengken]"  can mean either
"to introduce" or "to propose", but which of those two
meanings one chooses radically changes the context of the
act: did he actually get it introduced, imposing it by
fiat? Or did he merely propose it, and let people do as they
wish (with the near-certainty that they did not speak as he
so wished)? Also, "dialektos" in Greek can mean either
"language" or "dialect", though the context seems to imply
the latter is more likely.  "Idios" in Greek can mean either
"peculiar" (of or like a single situation or person) or
"strange" (unusual, counterconventional), and these two
as well imply different things about Alexarchus's motives
for making the language. If anyone can come up with better
renderings for the above oddities, please tell.

But it does seem that Green's comparison of Alexarchus'
creation to that of "A Clockwork Orange" is quite apt.

Thomas Wier <trwier@...>
"There once was a man who said, 'God     "Dear Sir:  Your astonishment's odd;
Must think it exceedingly odd            *I* am always about in the Quad.
If he finds that this tree               And that's why the tree
continues to be                          will continue to be
when there's no one about in the Quad.'" Since observed by,
                                            Yours faithfully, God."
-- two Berkeleian limericks in Bertrand Russell's _Unpopular Essays_


Muke Tever <alrivera@...>