Monday, May 21

The Secret Alcoves of Books' Souls

Both the first time I read them and now, in my first re-read or many, I am enjoying the allusions to Latin and French phrases in the Sherlock Holmes short stories.  It is just like me to get excited about little titbits of cultural and literary references.  I immediately embark on the quest for a translation, rushing to the computer, searching for the hidden meaning behind those suggestive syllables.  And when you finally get the hint, understand his thoughts, it's like a secret alcove in the writing is opened to you.  

A Study in Scarlet concludes with the Latin quotation from Horace, Book 1, Satire 1: Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo.  Ipse domi simul ac nummos contemplar in arca, which means "the public hisses at me, but I applaud myself in my own house, and simultaneously contemplate the money in my chest."  

The Red-Headed League ends with Holmes' mispronunciation of a Gustave Flaubert quote "l'Homme ne'est Rein l'Oeuvre Tout" - "the man is nothing, the work is everything".  After he explains a train of his deductions, his client wonders at the obviousness of something that seemed wondrous, states  omne ignotum pro magnifico - "all things unknown seem grand".

Other phrases such as tour de force (an impressive performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill) and magnum opus (an important work of art or literature), are dotted throughout.  

I try to get better acquainted to every new word I meet.  I bookmark my places with pieces of white paper so that every time I come across a new word, or phrase, Latin or English, I write it down, look it up in my twenty-year-old dictionary (so old that it has neither a front cover or a spine, so that its very identity as an edition, as a year, as the product of a publisher is lost forever to the years of past searching fingers).

It's so tempting to skip over words that you don't know - to imagine to yourself that you know well enough what the sentence means, what the image is.  But I am often so delighted by my discovery when I    look up these words, and unlock the secrets and glories of the whole passage.  It's the difference between moods, subtle subtexts, colours and fragrances, times of day, weather, emotions, and connections.  

I believe my point is now, even though it wasn't to begin with, that you should take the time to delve deeper into the words and enjoy the relationship that they bring.

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