Thursday, October 11, 2007

Varium et Mutabile Lector

Ever since in Mimesis, Erich Auerbach's magisterial masterpiece on Western Lit, Ammianus Marcellinus has stood out in my mind and my reading as some sort of seer of doom.

This morning, paging through his Loeb series, I was searching for the vivid scene at Adrianople in 378 AD when an Arab mercenary terrifies many German AND Roman soldiers with his berserker antics. Couldn't find it, but did find a delightful description of Arabia Felix [Arabia beati] which reminded me of a trip to Marib with Amb. Tom Pickering back in the mid-'70s overland from Jidda. The dam at Marib was mentioned in the Quran and the Himyaritic tradition supposedly was started by the Babylonians after they had fled Babylon after being defeated under Nebuchanezzar. Even today, the outlines of Nebuchadnezzar's palace-in-exile can be seen near Tayma. The village of Khaibar, where Mohammed found a bunch of refractory Jews, is also nearby. We visited the area during a trip to Meda'in Saleh along the railroad that Lawrence helped deconstruct in the war against the Ottomans.

Arabia Deserta and Petraea were the destination of Julius Caesar, who was going to sail to Yenbu, where the assiduous Roman engineers had already built a stone dock still visible underwater to dives today---though I was never able to make the dive. The sailing date was a couple of days after the Ides of March, 44BC, so the expedition never took place.

Reading Ammianus and his trip with Julian to Mesopotamia around 363AD makes for an interesting jaunt before the Land Between the Rivers had been completely leached out through faulty irrigation techniques.

What spurred me to all this discursive digression was reading Martin Ruhlen, the famous linguistic scientist, yesterday as he debunked Jared Diamond, whom I believe an opinionated mountebank, concerning the origin of Indo-European languages. I had seen a History Channel special on the Hittites, who interested me much as I have visited the Anatolian Museum in Ankara three times now. The number of Anatolian civilizations before the glaciers retreated and the plateau desiccated was stupendous.

Ruhlen says that the Neolithic Revolution of farmers started in Anatolia, where metallurgy also was invented. The Indo-Hittites he maintains were the mother language of Proto-Indo-European [PIE] which went both westward into Greece and the Balkans and eastward through the Caucasus onto the Iranian plateau and north into Scythia. And eventually, through the Aryan {Iranian] invasions of India through the Hindu Kush around 3000 BC. In my own trip from Skardu to Gilgit, I encountered some speakers of Burushaski, an outlier language Ruhlen believes may have kinship with Basque and Karvelian languages emanating out of Georgia five millenia ago.

The Dravidians and their northern cousins in the Hindu Kush who speak Brahui may both be descendents of the Indus Valley/Sumerian civilizations pushed southward by the Aryan horsemen.

Following Joseph Campbell and others, I had favored Marija Gimbutas' theory that the Kurgan culture of the Ukraine had been the original spawning ground of PIE. But Ruhlen and Cavalli-Sforza's team of geneticists coincide on putting the migration of Neolithic farmers outwards from Anatolia as early as 8000 BC. And the genes and linguistics coincide according to Dolgopolsky and other linguists who say the original PIE only had animate and inanimate nouns which evolved into masc., fem., neuter over the millenia.

And Ruhlen seems to cinch it by pointing out original borrow words from Proto-Semitic for bull THAWRA [now meaning revoluton in Arabic] and Taurus in PIE. Plus septm for seven in PIE and sab7 or Sabbath in Semitic. Also our word kid is from ghadr in Arabic/proto-Sem. Najjar[carpenter] and mesquin [petty, mean, mean-spirited: Fr.] are two Arabic words from Sumerian and seven/bull/kid might also have that connection. Seven/Sabbath/week may be a Sumerian invention like almost everything calendrical or circular [the wheel]. So there are also borrow words in PIE from early Kartvelian which may have migrated over to South China into the Cantonese dialect & some other outliers. The Hittites had a huge empire, spoke Indo-European, and a southern branch mixed so closely with their southern Semitic neighbors so that they are in the Bible. Though Ruhlen/Dolgo thinks the PIE borrowing from Semitic is vastly more ancient than the Bible.

Anyway, Colin Renfrew & Ruhlen think the westward ho! farmers displaced all the hunter-gatherer indigenous Europeans through language [PIE] and genes [except for the stubborn Basques]. And Cavalli-Sforza agrees on the genetic drift westward from Anatolia over about six thousand years---and of course eastward, though the genetic proof is still unexamined.

And the discovery of red-haired skeletons in the Taklamakan desert by Chinese paleolithic archeologists dated 5000 kya and wearing plaid kilts still throws a spanner into everyone's calculations.

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