Poesy as carpentry

The Latin evidence is deliciously ambiguous. The Latin for 'weave' or 'plait' is texere, and this is applied to poetic and other literary composition at least as early as Plautus, Trinummus 797, quamueis sermones possunt longei texier. Hence comes the word 'text', which has won its place in many modern languages. But texere is also employed of building ships or other wooden structures, and this is certainly an old use, as its cognates in other Indo-European languages are associated above all with carpentry. The underlying root is *te£s. In Vedic we have tâksan- 'carpenter' and the corresponding verb taks; in Avestan the equivalents tasan- and tas; in Greek reKrwv 'carpenter, builder', reKraivœ 'construct, fashion', and ré^yn (< *teks-na) 'craft'.39

In all these languages words from the *te£s root are used of poetic composition,40 so that the Latin use of texere may belong in the same tradition and may have had, at least originally, the corresponding sense of 'build'. In the Rigveda we have, for example, evil te Grtsamadah sura mânma .. . taksuh.

So the Grtsamadas have fashioned a song for thee, mighty one. (2. 19. 8)

abhi tâsteva didhaya manlsim.

I have thought out the song like a carpenter. (3. 38. 1)

âpurviyâ purutâmani asmai ... vâcâmsi .. . taksam.

Unprecedented, original words will I fashion for him. (6. 32. 1)

37 L. C. Stern, ZCP 7 (1910), 19 n.; J. Vendryès, RC 37 (1917), 281; H. Wagner, ZCP 31 (1970), 50-4.

39 See further Ernout-Meillet (1959), s.v. texo; Chantraine (1968-80) s.v. reKroiv; Gam-krelidze-Ivanov (1995), 611, 734.

40 Cf. T. Aufrecht, ZVS 4 (1855), 280; Pictet (1863), 481 f.; J. Darmesteter, Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 3 (1878), 319-21 = Études iraniennes ii (Paris 1883), 116-18 (German version in Schmitt (1968), 26-9); Durante, (1960), 237 f. ~ (1976), 172 f.; Schmitt (1967), 14, 296-8; Campanile (1977), 35 f.; Nunlist (1998), 101 f.

The expression at 7. 7. 6 mantram ye ... ataksan, 'who fashioned the song' (cf. 1. 67. 4; 2. 35. 2), has its Avestan counterpart at Y. 29. 7 tom uzutois Ahuru mqdrom tasat, 'the Lord fashioned that chant of the ghee-libation'. As mentioned earlier, a strophe of the Gathus was called a vacatasti-, a 'fashioning of the utterance'; a half-strophe was a naemu-vacatasti.41

Pindar is again in the van of the Greek poets who illustrate this metaphor: Pyth. 3. 113 enewv KeAaSevvMv, reKroves ola aofioi I ap^oaav, 'resounding verses such as skilled carpenters have joined together'; Nem. 3. 4 ¡ieXtyapvwv reKroves kw^wv, 'carpenters of honey-voiced encomia'. Cratinus began a lyric of his comedy Eumenides (fr. 70) with an invocation of reKroves evnaXd^wv v^vwv, 'O carpenters of skilful hymns'. The derived verb reKraivo^at appears in a similar connection in a fragment of Democritus (21 Diels-Kranz), 'Homer, having a nature in contact with the divine, fashioned an array of verses of every kind', and in one of the Hellenistic poetess Boio (2 Powell), who wrote of the legendary prophet Olen as the first who 'fashioned the song of ancient verses'. The epigrammatist Nicarchus praises Homer's supremacy in reKroavvrj enewv (Anth. Pal. 7. 159. 3). This phrase, like Pindar's enewv . .. reKroves and Democritus' enewv Koa^ov ereKrrjvaro, conjoins the same roots as the Vedic vacumsi taksam and Avestan vacatasti-.

The *te£s root has been lost from Celtic, but the concept survives in another lexical form.

The Welsh bards called themselves the carpenters of song, seiri gwawd or seiri cerdd, and claimed as their own all the tools and technical terms of the craftsman in wood, e.g. the axe, knife, square. When a rival imitated their themes or methods they told him bluntly to take his axe to the forest and cut his own timber.42

This reminds us of the Greek and Latin use of 'timber' words (vX-q, materies, silua) for the subject matter of literary compositions. In Irish, linking alliteration was called fidrad freccomail 'staves of joining', and types of internal rhyme were called uaitne 'pillar' and salchubaid 'willow-rhyme, post-rhyme'.43

In Old Norse the craftsman who works in wood, metal, or stone is a smidr, and the term is also applied to poets in such compounds as liodasmidr 'songsmith', galdasmidr 'spellsmith'; Bragi is frumsmidr bragar, 'proto-smith

41 Christian Bartholomae, Altiranisches Wörterbuch (Berlin 1904), 1037, 1340.

42 Sir Ifor Williams, Lectures on Early Welsh Poetry (Dublin 1944), 7. Cf. RV 10. 53. 10, 'Sharpen now, O poets (kavayah), the axes with which you do joinery (taksatha) for the immortal one'.

43 S. N. Tranter in Tristram (1991), 261 f. In Norse too the alliterating words were called 'staves'. Another Irish term for alliteration was uaim 'stitching'.

of poetry'.44 That carpentry is the particular craft in view appears in two passages from the tenth-century poet Egill Skallagrimsson and another from the twelfth-century poet Hallar-Stein:

Easily smoothed by my voice-plane are the praise-materials [timbers] for Thori's son, my friend, as they lie selected in twos and threes on my tongue.

I carry forth from the word-shrine praise's timber leafed with utterance.

I have smoothed with poetry's plane, painstaking in my work, my refrain-ship's beak.45

The vigour of the imagery in Nordic literary theory is further demonstrated in a passage from the thirteenth-century work by Ôlâfr Por5 arson Hvitaskâld known as the Third Grammatical Treatise (16 f.):

Paranomeon [parhomoeon] is when several words have the same initial letter, as in sterkum stilli styriar vœni. This figure is much used in the art of eloquent speech that is called rhetoric, and it is the first principle of that poetic form that holds Norse versification together, in the way that nails hold a ship together that a craftsman makes and that otherwise goes in loose order, timber from timber: so too this figure holds the form together in versification by means of those staves that are called props and head-staves.46

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