Sunday, 1 November 2015

Further Thoughts on Ichabod

‘Ichabod’ was originally a name, but got its later meaning following certain unfortunate events. Similarly the Greek word Εφιάλτης — ‘Efialtis’ —, which now means ‘Nightmare’, was once someone’s name; the name in fact of the person who showed the invading Persians the secret mountain path that enabled them to circumvent the narrow strip of land between sea and mountain at Thermopylae, which was being defended to the death. Of course, no Greek since then has had the name. Efialtis himself was killed by the Persians; no-one loves a real traitor, which is why those like Snowden, or a certain Englishman who sought refuge for a while in this island, were branded traitors by their governments. Those who ‘Betray their country’ for ethical reasons are of course, far from betraying it, making, at great personal sacrifice, a last desperate attempt to save its honour. And as E. M. Forster said, if he had to choose between betraying his country and betraying his friend, he hoped he would have the courage to betray his country.

Certain names, then, become too sullied ever to use again as names. My German and Austrian friends tell me that no-one — except perhaps the unfortunate sons of Neo-Nazis — ever gets christened ‘Adolf’ any more, and I imagine many English parents, in choosing names for their daughters, now consider ‘Margaret’ quite out of the question.

A picture? Oh, how about this: it is from the recent edition of Cavafy’s selected poems, with David Connolly’s English translations, published by ‘Aiora’. Both David and the publisher are friends of mine, and will, I hope, forgive my infringement of copyright.

No comments:

Post a Comment