Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword

I'm still working on this new Ring Hoard ring, but thought it was already worth sharing.  It's roughly based on the idea of an impresa, an emblem and motto painted on a pasteboard shield for (symbolic) use at a joust.  These were prestige objects, produced by the leading wordsmiths and painters of the day for aristocrats, and generally embodied some riddle or cryptic message. Shakespeare himself is known to have designed one for the Earl of Rutland to use at the King's Accession Day tourney in 1613.  One spectator complained on that occasion that
Some were so dark, that their meaning is not yet understood, unless perchance that were their meaning, not to be understood.
Sir Henry Wotton
Interesting use of "dark" there, where we would probably say "obscure".  What a very post-modern comment, too...  May I commend Master Hirst or Mistress Wearing for your lordship's next tilting ensemble?

This one is a rhetorician's impresa.  There are conventionally eight "parts" of speech: the verb, the noun, the pronoun, the adjective, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and the interjection.  When you learned a language the old-fashioned way -- with lots of rote-learning, group chanting and occasional beatings -- you absorbed all of this without really noticing.  It must be tough acquiring a new language cold from textbooks without already just knowing what a pronoun or a preposition is. My niece's son (great-nephew?) is embarking on the study of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic languages at Cambridge, and I suspect an unaccustomed hard grind awaits him.  The allegedly "immersive" audio-visual language teaching at our state secondary schools carefully avoids an analytically-tabulated approach to the "parts" of speech (I always thinks of the "exploded" assembly views in a Haynes manual for a vehicle).  Obviously, this is something which a native speaker does not need, and neither does an immigrant undergoing a true linguistic "immersion", but neither experience is really available for Old Norse, even in Cambridge.

The (probably unreadable) text around the perimeter of this ring goes as follows:
In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the style, or language, to be used; third, the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech.
Aristotle, Rhetoric
In other words, the trivium of the mediaeval university curriculum -- rhetoric, grammar, and logic -- which you may recall I used as the organising principle in my book sequence, Curriculum.

Whether you can win a joust by rhetoric is probably not, unfortunately, debatable; the ability to "talk a good fight" has never been much of an asset in the tilt yard.  History does not record the fate of the end-user of this particular impresa.