Archive for July, 2010

Psalm 22:17

July 31, 2010

Another interpretation...


The Septuagint, Tanakh and English Bible have the following for Ps 22:17 (Ps 21:17 in the Septuagint):


ὅτι ἐκύκλωσάν με κύνες πολλοί συναγωγὴ πονηρευομένων περιέσχον με ὤρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας

[ Lit: Because many dogs have encircled me a congregation of evil-doers have surrounded me they have dug my hands and feet.]


כִּ֥י סְבָב֗וּנִי כְּלָ֫בִ֥ים עֲדַ֣ת מְ֭רֵעִים הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י יָדַ֥י וְרַגְלָֽי׃

[Lit: For dogs have encircled me a congregation of evil-doers have surrounded me/like a lion my hands and feet.]


For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet.


So there are two three main questions here:

i)  What does the Hebrew text mean?

ii)  How can it be reconciled with the Greek text?

iii)  Can ‘dug’ really be the same as ‘pierced’?

What does the Hebrew text mean?

The simplest way of ‘saving’ the Hebrew text is to take the verb  הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי apo koinou with both both halves of the line, so we get:

*For dogs have encircled me a congregation of evil-doers have surrounded me/like a lion [they have surrounded]my hands and feet.

This procedure is perfectly unexceptionable in the Hebrew Bible, especially the poetic passages.  The idea of a single lion ‘having surrounded’ something may be a little alarming, but the Hebrew past tense often has the force of a present in English, so if we say the lion ‘surrounds => prowls around’ that’s not an insurmountable problem.

The other possibility is to say that כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י  ‘like a lion’ will originally have been some suitable verb.  The Septuagint translators appear to have decided it was or should be כַּרוּ , from the verb כָּרָה ‘dig’.  That may be possible–there’s some discussion here and here.

Greek and English texts

If the LXX translators saw (or thought they saw) כָּרָה, then the obvious translation would have been ’ορύσσω,  aor 3 pl ὤρυξαν, as we see above.  Unfortunately, neither ’ορύσσω nor כָּרָה can really mean ‘pierce’.  One can argue that, as with the apo koinou construction, words can be–are–used in ‘unusual” senses in the Psalms; but in that case we have to assume that the Septuagint translators saw and failed to realise it didn’t really mean what it said, while modern Bible translators know better.


The most conservative answer is to take the verb in the Hebrew text apo koinou, and there seems no very strong reason to reject it.  It’s very difficult to see how the Septuagintists would have written ὤρυξαν if they meant ‘pierced’, when otherwise they seem to have used perfectly normal words for ‘pierce’, such as τετραίνω (2 Ki 18:21) and τρυπάω (Ex 21:6).

The Defence of the Realm (Christopher Andrew)

July 31, 2010


As the cover helpfully says, this is an authorised history of MI5 (more lately, the Security Service) from its beginnings shortly before the First World War to more-or-less the present day.

And I was certainly kept very interested–I spent more-or-less a whole day in my dressing gown since I couldn’t tear myself away from the book to get dressed.  There are 1044 pages in my Penguin paperback, of which 861 are the main text and the remainder are appendices, notes, and an index.  Actually the index isn’t that useful–it really only allows you to look up proper names and isn’t very helpful for general themes.

Why is it so interesting?  I think it’s because everything’s so clear at the beginning where it’s clear who the bad guys (Germans) are, what they want to do, how we want to stop them and what happened.  ‘What happened’ is clear because as well as the action being relatively simple, the author isn’t constrained by having to wriggle round what he’s not allowed to say.  So you follow him confidently into the murkier areas of Soviet espionage, counter-subversion and counter-terrorism.

Can you believe what he says (or is he hopelessly constrained by his position as authorised historian)?  Well, writing about Bloody Sunday (on p 620) the author says:

Major General Robert Ford, Commander of Land Forces, insisted that ‘There is absolutely no doubt that the`Parachute Regiment opened up only after they were fired on.’  Nationalists were convinced that, on the contrary, the British soldiers were guilty of premeditated murder.

That’s entirely even-handed, and we now have the conclusion from the Saville Enquiry that the military view given above is not in accordance with the facts.

Andrew does seem keen to discredit the various renegade (or repentant) Security Service operatives like Cathy Massiter and Michael Shayler (and indeed Peter Wright) who have surfaced over the years.  That leads to one asking if they were so awful, how did they get taken on in the first place.  In fact Andrew seems to be broadly sympathetic to Security Service attempts to join the modern world in recruitment, training, and indeed having a legal basis, while sharing its antipathy to performance indicators.  One could ask would he (or indeed they) like to live next to a nuclear power station that eschewed quantitative indicators since an explosion would only happen once.

It’s interesting to see things from a different angle:  for instance, the Official Secrets Act as a necessary and overdue piece of legislation, rather than an instance of war hysteria.  And similarly to see what we have lost:  the Post Office refusing to allow opening of suspects’ letters, since it would destroy public trust in the mail, and the meticulous respect for private property.  We were free once, and now we’re just frightened…It’s interesting to contrast the detailed description of procedures for intercepting mail and obtaining Home Office Warrants for telechecks (phonetapping) with the complete silence about more contemporary methods of communication.

Certainly a completely absorbing day’s reading.  It’s actually a very easy read–I can’t remember any instances of acronyms of personages being introduced without prior explanation, and there weren’t any of the authorial tics that can become so irritating when repeated over 1000 pages or so.

Picture of Christopher Andrew from 'Novoe vremya'

Among the reactions in the Russian press, Vedomosti are surprised that Klaus Fuchs expected to be left alone even after being found out, that MI5 had to mount a PR campaign to expel the 105 Soviet ‘diplomats’ in 1971, and the amount of freedom that Andrew was given indeciding what secret materials to refer to, while Novoe vremya are most interested in the details of defectors from the Soviet side.

New Testament Greek at Madingley Hall, 4-6 February 2011

July 30, 2010

Madingley Hall

I have received from the tutor John Taylor the following suggestions for texts for next February’s NT Greek at Madingley Hall:

Psalms 22 and 137 (=LXX 21 and 136) [40 verses]
I Maccabees ch 1 [64 verses]
Luke chs 13-15 [101 verses]
I Peter chs 1-5 [105 verses]

In this context, it’s probably a good thing that the Hebrew original of Maccabees has disappeared–that will stop people from worrying about what the text really said, which is often a cause of concern when reading the Septuagint.

If you’re interested in the course, I’m sure it will be fine to email John Taylor with queries about the course content.   Or you can also consult my posting on the 2010 course here.

Biblical Hebrew (and Introduction to Judaism) in Ealing

July 30, 2010

Ealing Abbey

Here, with corrected dates, is some information I have received from Ann-Marie Ryan at the Benedictine Study and Arts Centre.

I have sorted dates and times with Rabbi Rachel Montagu for the following two courses ‘Introduction to Judaism’ and ‘Introduction to Biblical Hebrew’, to be run at the Benedictine Study and Arts Centre, Autumn Term 2010.  Dates and times as follows:

1. Introduction to Judaism (10 weeks)
Thursdays: 10.30am-12.30pm 7 October to 16 December (not 28 Oct.)
Course Fee: £100

2. Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (10 weeks)
Thursdays: 01.30pm-03.30pm 7 October to 16 December (not 28 Oct.)
Course Fee: £100

The BSAC website appears to be in a state of flux at the moment, but it is possible to email Ann-Marie.

Intrigue/Love (Schiller) Southwark Playhouse 24 July

July 25, 2010


Ferdinand (Cerith Flynn) and Louisa (Alice Henley)

The Faction’s new show at the Southwark Playhouse is of course an adaptation of Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe, which also served as the source for Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

The action is as follows. Ferdinand, son of the Chancellor to the Duke of a German duchy (here rendered as Hamburg) is in love with Louisa, the daughter of a musician.  Worm, the Chancellor’s secretary would also like to marry her.  He gets short shrift.  The Chancellor, whose career has been built on crime and deceit, wants Ferdinand to marry Lady Milford, the Duke’s discarded mistress.  After more direct attempts to separate them have failed, Worm suggests they use intrigue:  imprison Louisa’s father and so coerce her into writing what will be taken as a love-letter to another man.

Tableau beginning second half

The second half begins with the characters reading multiple copies of Louisa’s letter, as above.  Lady Milford summons Louisa to try to take her into her service and win Ferdinand from her.  After Louisa will not be tempted, she resolves to leave Hamburg and her life of unearned privilege–also removing from her face the white make-up she has (like the other corrupted characters) been wearing up to that point.  Ferdinand visits Louisa’s family, gives her father a bag of gold, and then poisons her and himself.  Released from her vow by death, Louisa tells him how she was forced to write the letter.  The Chancellor burst in–Ferdinand curses him and dies.  The Chancellor says he will finish Worm and Worm says he will make known the Chancellor’s crimes.

Steven Blake was magnificently evil as the Chancellor, and if possible Gareth Fordred was even more unpleasant as a Worm clad in black leather.  Kate Sawyer did a very good job as Lady Milford–probably the most interesting character in the play–but I’m afraid that Alice Henley as Louisa  didn’t really impress me as a romantic heroine.  While I appreciated the athleticism of Cerith Flynn in running several times round the playing area in his desperate rush to Miller’s house, he struck me as a nice young lad in a bit of a pickle (and given to some lofty outpourings) rather than anything else.

Worm, Louisa and the fatal letter

The production was very sensible and direct, with good use made of chairs (and music) and of costumes to suggest who was who.  There’s a very good video trailer (the source of the images above) here–it’s well-done and it gives you a good idea of what the thing is about.

As I cycled home afterwards, I thought (very much not for the first time) that the idea of drama is to show that people can be better, braver, greater, more beautiful than they are–so I think Schiller would have called this show a success.


I have now corrected a couple of factual errors in the original version of this posting.

Many of these characters also have their equivalents in Don Carlos, I think : Chancellor–Philip II; Ferdinand–Don Carlos; Lady Milford–Eboli; Worm–Confessor/Grand Inquisitor.

Update 29 July

Southwark Playhouse has now announced the following via Facebook and Twitter:  want to see Intrigue/Love for just £10? Use the codeword “INTRIGUE” when booking online or on the phone (020 7407 0234).

There is a remarkable 5-star review in Russian here.  ‘Remarkable’ not because I disagree with it but because it contains absolutely no evidence that the reviewer has seen this production…

The Elixir of Love (Blackheath Halls) 18 July

July 18, 2010


Blame me, not my Nokia!

This year’s Blackheath Community Opera show was almost certainly better than I’m going to give it credit for, but I was in the wrong place and (to an extent) at the wrong time as well.

As the low-quality picture above shows, the main seating was along the long side of the hall, opposite the orchestra, and the performance was quite naturally directed there on the whole.  I started off quite near the ‘wrong’ end of one of the short sides (from where the picture was taken) and then budged up to the end so that a group of…non-traditional opera goers…could sit together.  No good deed goes unpunished, and they spent a lot of the first half in whispered exchanges, humming along, and passing round sweets in a crackly bag.  (I moved to another seat for the second act.)

Photo from whatsonstage

The action was set in England during WWII–specifically in 1941 I think–and why I don’t know.  It led to some necessarily drab costumes, when drabness is the enemy of opera.  As adapted here, Nemorino signs up for 30 s to pay for a further bottle of elixir from Dulcamare, when surely he would have been conscripted anyway?  And the in-the-round presentation led to some of the usual loss of concentration–in particular, Adina shed her furtive tear(s) when Nemorino was nowhere around to see it, and then some time later he appeared on an empty stage to sing about it.  It all sounds better in Italian, and works better if the characters are Italian.

The performances were good or very good or better.  The amateur Blackheath Halls Orchestra were both sound and sprightly under Nicholas Jenkins, and the woodwind were an awful lot more reliable than in ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ last year.  The chorus (and accompanying children) were commendably lively, though the chorus was a little mushy on a few occasions.

Among the singers, Elena Xanthoudakis as Adina had all the notes and spotted her coloratura very nicely.  Her tone did become a little shrieky at times, and there were many occasions when I couldn’t understand her words (even when she was facing in my direction, which didn’t happen often).  I really liked Nick Sherratt as Nemorino–he had the true tenor ring and I could understand his words, which was especially commendable when he was engaging in competitive exercise with the Belcore of Grant Doyle (who was fine).  Sherratt also put over the naive enthusiasm and boyish vulnerability of Nemorino, while Xanthoudakis was certainly acting something intensely, I’m just not sure what.  I think that Robert Poulton could have made rather more of Dulcamara (entering and exiting on a bicycle, as seems to have become the norm)–that role really should be an open goal–while Helen Bailey’s Giannetta looked to have had the life drained from her by a grey dress of quite indescribable drabness.

Anyway, well done Blackheath Community Opera and we look forward to next year!

As for the wrong time–it was the afternoon performance, there were children (not all entirely silent) in the audience as well as on stage…

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (Caryl Churchill) Arcola Theatre 17 July

July 18, 2010


Uninformative picture of some cast members

The Arcola Theatre was quite well-filled with an audience predominantly of decaying lefties (like the present author) for the Saturday evening performance of Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play about the  English Civil War, Putney Debates, and the unhappy fate of the Diggers and Levellers.  The extreme (sandal-wearing) faction of the audience had some difficulties with the cross of fresh earth that had been let into a concrete floor so that the Diggers could dig.

It wasn’t very good, in all truth.  I enjoyed the hymn-singing, Biblical references and extracts from the Putney Debates, but otherwise….

So we began with some vignettes of life on the eve of (perhaps at the beginning of) the Civil War, making approved points about the subjection of women, poverty of the masses, landowners and established church joining in Old Coruption, etc.  As far as I can see there are two ways of doing this:  like Bulgakov in The White Guard, you can create a convincing picture of peacetime life so that the audience knows what is being lost or changed, or like Brecht in Mother Courage you can present your scenes explicitly framed and alienated, like the small panels round the edge of the icon.  Here Churchill was trying to do the second in the manner of the first, and it didn’t work.

Also the characters were wearing black and the lifesuppressing black curtain was in place round the edge of Arcola Studio 1 (I actually touched it–Eurgh!!), so the whole action rather failed to detach itself from the gloom.  Then we had the Putney Debates, and I cheered up–the actors took off their black tops to reveal white shirts, and they had some interesting words to say.  At the end, Cromwell said they would refer the Agitator’s paper to a Comittee–a sure sign of the coming triumph of satanic evil, one has to agree.  I thought that Michelle Terry did a good job as Henry Ireton here, needing as she did to overcome the twin disadvantages of being a girl and defending the rights of property.

So I was encouraged enough to stay for the second half.  Where people were wearing odd bits of (dark coloured) modern clothing and military gear.  So the Diggers and Levellers were suppressed, the army had the choice of killing Irish or going home.  Then we had the kind of scene that Dostoevsky did so well (and on this evidence Ms Churchill would be advised not to attempt at all) where characters filled with millenarian expectation declare that Christ is coming, God is within them, sin is no sin, while desperately drinking and whoring.

So after Dostoevsky we had Orwell and the new Parliamentary squire becoming the same as the old Royal Squire and explaining that Cromwell would no longer oppose enclosing the commons though he had in the past; and then  Voltaire–Chacun doit cultiver son jardin, which the Levelling soldier Briggs did by learning to eat grass.

Well, I thought that Michelle Terry was getting a handle on her various roles.  Philip Arditti took the Frenchified diction of the class oppressor a bit too far.  Apart from the complaints listed above, I found that once more the oversized amorphous drabness of Arcola Studio 1 dissipated the drama into dullness, and I didn’t believe a lot of the text–I would have expected, for instance,  the characters to back up almost every assertion by a Biblical reference.

Gala Evening Special Offer 21 July

I have also received the following from the Arcola:

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Curchill

For just £30 (normally £48), you can join special guest Caryl Churchill at the Arcola Theatre for an evening of theatre, discussion, music, food and drink.

The evening includes:

• Food and Wine

• A ticket to see the show

• An introductory talk on the period by Geoffrey Robertson, QC

• Tony Benn and Kate Mosse in conversation

• Music from Billy Bragg

With fantastic catering provided by Leila Latif, and free flowing wine from the Swan, at Shakespeare’s Globe, the evening kicks off at 6.30pm, before the show will start at 7.30pm.

The play tells the story of a group of ordinary men and women struggling to find a voice in the face of unspeakable suffering, who cling to the belief that they will be shown a glimpse of an unspeakable, transcendent glory. Churchill herself will be in the audience to see the next installment from director Polly Findlay, and the stellar creative team behind Thyestes (Arcola) and Eigengrau (Bush Theatre).

“Polly Findlay showed real insight and imagination in her production of my translation of Seneca’s Thyestes at the Arcola. I enjoyed her use of the space and the detail of her work with the actors, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with Light Shining.” – Caryl Churchill

Your support will go directly to making the production possible.

Light Shining Gala Night

Wed 21 July at 6.30pm

To book – simply call Arcola Box Office on 02075031646 and quote ‘Subscriber Gala Offer’.

Tickets to this special event are entirely subject to availability.

Peter Ackroyd’s Canterbury Tales: What the did he mean by that ‘fuck’?

July 17, 2010

On reading this book, I was struck among other things by the bad language used and wondered what it corresponded to in the original.   My conclusions appear below, more-or-less in order of appearance.


‘Fuck’ in modern English can of course either be ‘have sex’ or ‘do harm’

Fuck sex

Sometimes ‘fuck’ is used for what I presume are the Chaucerian equivalents:  swyve and dighte (I think the latter is a past tense form).    so for instance on p 97, corresponding to the Miller’s Tale l.3850:  Thus swyved was this carpenteris wyf;  p107 Reeve’s Tale corresponding to l.4178: If that I may, yon wenche wil I swyve;  p429 Manciple’s Tale corresponding to l.256: For on thy bed thy wyf I saw him swyve.

It is also used as an equivalent for some more various ways of describing sex, for instance (one could say, euphemistically):  Miller’s Tale, l.3269:  For any lord to leggen in his bedde.; Reeve’s Tale, l. 4235 For he had swonken [toiled] all night long.; Miller’s Tale, l.3653/4 And thus lith Alison and Nicholas, In bisynesse of myrthe and of solas.    And there are some cases where the equivalent expression is hardly euphemistic:  Nun’s Priest’s Tale, l.3965 Al be it that I may not on yow ryde,[well, that’s how male hens do it to female hens].  And a special mention for ‘On Fucking’ as translation of De Coitu in the Merchant’ s Tale, l.1811.

Fuck harm

Chaucer doesn’t seem to regard sex this way anywhere, and the various uses in Ackroyd tend to refer to something quite different in the original:  ‘fuck off’ vs l.3708 Miller’s Tale ‘Go fro the wyndow, Jakke fool’; p247 ‘I don’t give a fuck for your Seneca’ v Merchant’s Tale l.1567 Straw for thy Senek; p 104 ‘oh fuck’ v Reeve’s Tale l.4072 And gan to crie ‘Harrow’ and Weylaway! [‘Harrow’ looks religious rather than sexual in connotation to me].


May just be ‘queynte’, as in p84 vs l.3275 Miller’s Tale.


It looks like an arse is just an arse, for instance p96 v l.3810 Miller’s Tale And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot; p189 v l.1690 Summoner’s Prologue Shewe forth thyne ers… Also on p99,  there is an explanation of why a medlar is like an open arse, while in Reeve’s Prologue l.3871 it just seems to be the usual name for the medlar:  But if I fare as dooth an open-ers,-



And again a fart is a fart is a fart, multiply so in the case of the Summoner’s Tale, for instance p201 (first instance) v l.2149 Amydde his hand he leet the frere a fart.  The the Reeve’s Tale is more complex; we have ‘He had drunk so much ale that he haw gurgling and belching in his sleep like a horse; he kept on farting too,’ p 106 vs ll.4163-5 This millere hath so wisely bibbed ale/That as an hors he fnorteth in his sleep,/ Ne of his tayl bihynde he took no keep.


Piss is the same: p 107 Reeve’s Tale vs l.4215 And gan awake, and wente hire out to pisse; p 163 vs l.729 Wife of Bath’s Prologue How Xantippa caste pisse upon his heed.  But ‘piss off’ isn’t:  p184 Friar’s Tale ‘I’ll stay with you until you tell me to piss off.’ vs l.1522 Til it be so that thou forsake me.


Fart, piss and arse are largely unaltered.  Quite a variety of expressions for having sex are rendered by ‘fuck’; there seems to be no real equivalent in Chaucer for the use of obscenities to intensify general expressions of distaste or rejection.


The page numbers for Ackroyd refer to the Penguin Classic hardback published in 2009, ISBN 9781846140587; the quotations from Chaucer come from the Eveyman Classics edition of 1975, reprinted 1982, ISBN 0460113070.

Elektra Young Vic 02 July 

July 4, 2010


Picture from Young Vic Facebook page

The question is always how to adopt the distancing and generalisation of Greek tragedy to the modern stage, which operates by precisely the opposite principles, and where Elektra’s sweatstained singlet and bloodied face are present all to present.

This interpretation, using a new translation by Anne Carson,  followed Milton:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end

and the lighting by Guy Hoare certainly deserved credit for making the darkness visible (able to be seen through, in this context).

In pursuit of the same idea, the text left out rather a lot of the mythological and gnomic structure of  the original.  The Clytaemnestra of Nadia Cameron-Blakey impassively delivered her lines from an infinity of cold, while I enjoyed the nervous Chrysothemis of Amanda Hale in an Emily Dickinson dress.

Amanda Hale as Chrysothemis

But did Lydia Leonard as Elektra show the true Sophoclean adamantine intransigence, obdurate pride and steadfast hate, or was she merely put-upon?  Well, after receiving the false news of Orestes dying, she began to dig, and then a little of the magic appeared like the corner of a coffin.  But I think that the recognition scene between her and Orestes works better if they dispute for the ashes-containing urn as for his identity; here she took it away and cradled it in her arms.

I’m not sure that it really makes sense if the action already seems to be taking place among the chthonic deities; it is the actions of the characters above the earth while they can see the light that lead them there.  But this was a serious and highly competent attempt at tackling the problems of staging Greek drama, and I’ve no idea why the Young Vic felt they had to put it on for free.  It was co-credited to Headlong Theatre, and was without doubt a great deal better than the paid-for productions of theirs I’ve seen.