Monday, April 12, 2010

The Puzzles of Antiquity

It took a long time before I could cotton to the Miserere, the 50th or 51st psalm depending upon your translation of choice. It's that bit about "in sin hath my mother conceived me". Well. If they're going to go about insulting my mother on no evidence whatsoever. . . .

It took a long time to realize that it's not about my mother, it's about me. Original sin. My original sin. Oh, yeah, well sure, me. Long as you leave mom out of it.

Which came to mind when I ran across this the other day in an old number of The Spectator:

I love the psalms and read one every night. Many of their first lines come into my head with accompaniment from one of the great English church music composers – “Like as the hart”. . .”O clap your hands.” For someone brought up on them and hearing the psalms spoken or sung in an English Cathedral week in, week out, it is the sudden wonderful images that leap out and both delight and intrigue. “I will shew my dark speech upon the harp.” “Why hop ye so, ye high hills?” But in reading one book, you learn about another, so that it was from the author Robertson Davies that I discovered this week the meaning of “I am as a bottle in the smoke”, which has puzzled me for years. It does not mean a glass bottle but a goatskin used for wine, which has been blown up and hung over a fire until it is dried hard. You learn something every day.
The Spectator, 6 Feb 2010, "Diary" - Susan Hill


Maybe some day I'll find out why Moab is my washpot. The context says it's supposed to be an insult. But as insults go, rather odd.