Thursday, March 31, 2022

Bookish Quotes: What is Philology?

 A couple of months ago now I read The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (who also has written under the name and really enjoyed it. This is far more fantasy than I normally read, in that the world, place names, language etc are very much imagined as part of the whole story. It's been quite a long time since I have read something this fantastical.

A brief summary is that Maia is the fifth son of a reigning emperor. He has been cast out and is being raised in an obscure, impoverished corner of the empire. When his father and his elder brothers are all killed, Maia suddenly becomes the emperor. He has no idea of rules and rituals or reigning, not everyone is happy that he is now the ruler and he needs to navigate his way through various challenges, not least of which is surviving.

The book is full of interesting characters, and I do intend to read more of the books set in this world.

For today's Bookish Quote, I thought I would share a scene where the emperor is talking to some of the men who were his father's advisers and Maia is mentally admiring a wedding stole that one of them has on display

"Put tactfully," Pashavar said, and for the rest of the time until dinner was announced, Lanthevel and Pashavar told Maia stories of his father, giving him a glimpse, at least, of the man Idra and Vedero and others who had loved him had known. But Maia kept thinking abou the wedding stole, and after the sliced pears in yoghurt were served, he asked Lanthevel, "How did you come by that wedding stole? And - forgive us if this an impolite question, buy why do you hang it in your receiving room?"

"Not impolite at all," Lanthevel said. In fact, he seemed pleased. "Your Serentiy knows that we are a scholar of the University of Ashedro?"

"We did not know," Maia said. "We had understood that scholars mostly remain in the universities."

"True," said Lanthevel, "but our elder brother became a votary of Catheio when he was forty."

"Oh," Maia said.

Lanthevel made a small, ironic nod of acknowledgement. "A scholar may be plucked from his university to sit in the Parliament, but not as a votary. We have found, though, that we are able to continue our studies at least in small ways - and perhaps that makes them more precious to us."

"But what do you study, Lanthevel?" Pashavar interupted. "You'll talk all night and still not have answered the emperor's question."

"Have some more wine, Lord Pashavar," Lanthevel suggested. "Your disposition hasn't mellowed yet."

Pashavar laughed, like a crack of thunder; Maia realisd that these two men were genuinely friends, and they were doing him the honor, and the great kindness, of letting him see their friendship.

"As it happens," Lanthevel said, collecting the attention of the table, "we study neither textiles nor the history of Csedo -our studies are in philology - but a close friend left us the stole as an ulishenathaan, and we treasure it."

"Forgive us again," Maia said, dogged because he was trying not to imagine having one of his mother's embroidered pillows to remember her by, "but what is philology?"

The silence was sharp; Lanthevel's raised eyebrows said he suspected Maia of mockery, and Maia said, "We ask in all sincerity. Our education was somewhat erratic."

"Did you not have tutors?" said Pashavar.

"No, only Setheris," Maia said, realizing too late to catch himself the insult in using his cousin's given name unadorned.

Pashavar snorted."Setheris Nelar must have made the worst teacher the empire has ever seen."

"No, he was a very good teacher, when he could be bothered." Maia bit his lip, appalled, and only then realized that the warm drifting feeling in his head meant that he was beginning to get drunk. Lanthevel's wine was stronger than he thought.

"Yes, but how often could he be bothered?" Pashavar said, with a horrible sharp knowingness in his eyes.

and then a bit later

"And there is a question we have not answered," Lanthevel said."Philology, Serenity, is the study of the origins of words."

"The origins of words?" Maia said.

"We study how languages change," said Lanthevel. "Why a word has one form among the silk favmers of the east and another among the herdsmen of the west. Why some words stay in use from generation to generation, while others are discarded. For example, for we see that you are still dubious, the word 'morhath' is the word for 'sky' that was used in the court of Your Serenity's great-great-great-great-granduncle, Evdrevechelar the Fourteenth. But no one uses it now or even knows its meaning. Our study is to track the course of its disappearance and the emergence of the word that took its place."

"Actually," Orthema said mildly," that's not quite true. We know the word 'morhath' because we heard it used by the Evressai barbarians."

"You did?" said Lanthevel, all but pouncing on him, and Maia became less worried that this was an elaborate joke to discomfit the emperor. For one thing, he didn't believe Orthema would be party to any such joke: for another, Lanthevel had become so intent on extracting details from Orthema that he seemed almost to have fogotten the emperor's existence. Maia bent his head over his plate and listened as Ortema was slowly encouraged to speak, to describe the people he had spent much of his adult life fighting.

1 comment:

  1. Once upon a time, dear,
    thar was PEACE in the world...
    but! alas! O poor, poor Yorick!
    the PACIFIC fell when the serpent
    crawled into the gorgeous garden:
    ☆ ☆