Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Greek sofa

It would have been very hard indeed not to take postcard-pretty pictures on campus today, 


since it was looking so unlike itself in the snow - but the problem's a familiar one: what to do with prettiness when it's readily available, like a tourist spot - how to make it in any way one's own.

I'm starting to suspect that my solution to this conundrum - at least when on the Rutgers campus - is to think hmmmmm - I wonder what's been tossed out at the back of a frat house/sorority today?   My fascination with these strange social groupings with their Greek letters comes, I'm sure, from the complete and utter absence of them in England (had we had such a thing, I would either have been desperately anxious to have been admitted or irritatingly supercilious about the whole thing - happily I never had to find out which).   Nonetheless, here's a Greek sofa.

Which made me start wondering what to call the posting - what was the ancient Greek word for snow, for a start?   And that's not at all an easy one to answer - chion, most likely (I can't manage Greek letters on Blogger, it would seem, so I'm transliterating), according to Liddell and Scott, the standard stand-by lexicon.   but maybe niphostves, which sounds much more like a very light whispery snowfall.   Chion is what forms the root of words that I've never thought of using before, like "chionophilus" - thriving in snow-covered surroundings, or "chionomania" - loving snow (which I always have done, maybe because I was born (indoors) during a snowstorm, or "chionophobia" - fearing the stuff - and this includes the apocalyptic fear, in some cultures, that the end of the world will occur in winter, preceded by a heavy snowstorm.

And Chione, the nymph, daughter of Boreas (god of the north wind, whose name I used to invoke out of the window on summer nights when I was about thirteen, for the hell of it) and Oreithyia, goddess of mountain gales - Chione was the goddess of snow.   She got pregnant by the sea god Poseidon (I can't work out how - there's not a lot of snow that actually falls on the Mediterranean), had a child with the unpleasantly lumpy name of Eumolpous, didn't dare tell her father, threw him into the sea, whereupon he was rescued by Poseidon who took him off to Ethiopia - thereby saving him, I'd have thought, from all future danger of blizzards.   I have no idea if the late C19th Italian artist Segantini knew this legend or not, but he executed some very strange pictures indeed of infanticidal mothers hanging around in snowy Alpine landscapes.

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