Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Today Maureen Dowd begins her column with this about the last name of David Petraeus:
"Now another charismatic general has shattered his life and career over sex. When you've got a name like a Greek hero, and a nickname like a luscious fruit, isn't hubris ripe to follow?
It's been a steep fall for Peaches Petraeus, once the darling of Congress and journalists, Republicans and Democrats...."
Apparently she has been fooled by the "eus" ending of "Petraeus" which has led her to think of "Odysseus" and the false Achaean scent.
If she had a better sense of things, she would have recognized the name as an example of the fashion, some centuries ago, in countries of Europe -- especially but not only in Sweden -- to latinize one's name, especially in the case of scholars who lived at a a time when Latin was still the universal language of scholarship and academic life (Leibniz published his works on the calculus, in the proceedings of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in Latin) that a Latin name bespoke scholarship. And it was not always the celebrated scholars themselves, but ancestors of those scholars, who had latinized the name for professional reasons. Think of Scaliger, once "Della Scala." Think of the chemist Berzelius. Think, above all, of the celebrated taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus. Amusingly, Linnaeus, once ennobled for his work in Uppsala, shed the wonted latinity of his academical village and became Carl von Linne.
This is not something Maureen Dowd knew about. Why be a surprised? . She's a child of her age, a representative practitioner of her profession. The past in another country, and Europe even more so, and for the maureen-dowds of this world, there's no need to know much about, as Humbert Humbert calls it, "the Old and rotting World." . But at least Maureen Dowd is much more intelligent, and more lively, than the impossibly dull Kristof, the hopelessly stupid Friedman. That's in her favor. Look on the bright side.
Posted on 11/14/2012 10:41 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald