Simanaitis Says

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I WAS LOOKING FOR SOMETHING or other in Stephen Fry’s Mythos: The Greek Myths Reimagined, when I came upon the Appendices of this marvelous book. In its “Feet and Toes” entry, Fry writes, “Like us the Greeks used feet as a measurement. One pous (plural podes) was made up of about fifteen or sixteen toes (daktyla) and was approximately as long as a British or American foot. There were one hundred podes to a plethron (the width of a running track), six of those to the stadion (the length of a running track, from which we get our word ‘stadium’), and eight stadia to the mile, or milion.”

A neck amphora depicting an athlete running the hoplitodromos, a race requiring helmet, shield, and shin armor rather than the usual nudity. Image by Jastrow and one more author from Wikipedia.  

More Greek Units. Wikipedia describes the kondylos (knuckle) as two daktyloi (fingers) and that 24 daktyloi made a pēchys, a cubit. 

You may recall that God ordered Noah to build his ark 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide by 30 cubits high. Wikipedia says, “These dimensions are based on a numerological preoccupation with the number 60….”

A Babylonian Sidestep. The Babylonians had a base-60 number system with base-10 nuances. 

Image from MacTutor.

PF. Fry writes, “The foot business—podiatrists, octopuses (or octopodes), tripods, and so on—shows the interesting journey of the letter ‘P’ as it strangely contorted to ‘F’ the farther west it went: so pous became Fuss in German and foot in English. Pfennig, Pfeife, and Pfeffer are still stuck in the middle in modern German but have become penny, pipe, and pepper in English (though fife exists too).”

Fry continues, “The early nineteenth-century philologist Friedrich von Schlegel first noticed this ‘Great Fricative Shift,’ which subsequently became part of Grimm’s Law—so named in honor of the Brothers Grimm, who were the ones who really put in the work and showed how most of the languages of Europe and the Middle East could be traced all the way back to India and their notional Proto-Indo-European ancestor.”

Ecco Sanskrit.

Philologist and…. Friedrich von Schlegel was a poet, literary critic, philosopher, and Indologist as well as philologist. He and his older brother, August Wilhelm Schlegel, were also principal figures of Jena Romanticism.

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich (after 1814: von) Schlegel, 1772–1829, German polymath. Portrait by Franz Gareis, 1801.

At a Berlin salon in 1797, Friedrich met Brendel née Mendelssohn Veit, daughter of Jewish scholar Moses Mendelssohn and destined to be an aunt of composer Felix. She divorced her merchant/banker husband in 1799.

That same year, Friedrich published the novel Lucinde, which, according to Wikipedia, caused a scandal in German literary circles seen as an account of their affair.

In 1802, the pair moved to Paris, where, among other things, Friedrich studied Sanskrit with British philologist Alexander Hamilton (first cousin of ours).

Schlegel’s important book, Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India) was published in 1808. In it, he offered insights of how Sanskrit evolved into Latin, Greek, Persian, and German. 

In the meantime, Wikipedia notes, Schlegel and Brendel were married on April 4, 1804, in the Swedish embassy in Paris, after she “had undergone the requisite conversion from Judaism to Protestantism.” And, in 1808, the pair joined the Catholic Church in the Cologne Cathedral, thus managing to antagonize both her Jewish family and his Lutheran pastor father.

Dorothea Friederike von Schlegel, née Brendel Mendelssohn, 1764–1839, German novelist and translator. Portrait by Anton Graff, c. 1790.

One Wikipedia entry says Brendel “may have adopted the name ‘Dorothea’ from a 17th-century Dorothea von Schlegel who composed Catholic hymns.” But I ain’t buying it. Another Wikipedia entry gives hymn writer Catharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel’s dates as 1697 to after 1768, thus she was really 18th century. What’s more, she was likely a Lutheran.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see how the Brothers Grimm and Wife Dottie’s kin get into all this. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023  

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