Monday, 6 July 2015

Thursday 12th May 1960



What could you work out about the person who wrote a date in this form?  What might a Sherlock Holmes deduce?  What might a literary archaeologist uncover?  It is something I have had fun exploring with groups in the past.

First, if said aloud, the person begins by naming a Norse God (Thor) and then appears to continue by speaking almost pure Old Frisian (saying ‘dei’ and ’twiliftha’).  So the speaker’s linguistic roots are clearly pagan, Germanic and, more specifically, related to the tribal area adjacent to that of the Angles (who gave their name to the language the speaker speaks) in the late Roman Empire period.

It is then quickly apparent that this Frisian is built on substantial Roman foundations.  The script is Roman lettering, the habit of naming the fifth day of the week after the God of thunder is also a Roman one, and the very next word is the name not of a second Norse God but of a Roman Goddess (Maia).  So it is plausible that the authority vacuum which allowed things Frisian (including at least its language) to dominate was the collapse of the Roman Empire; the Norse / Frisian layer is quite a thin overlying of the Roman one.

Frisian and Latin have in common being Indo-European languages, although there is nothing about this deeper kinship apparent in the date.  What is apparent is that, although the alphabet being used is Roman, the numbering system is the one developed in India in the same period as the late Roman Empire, a system exported through Persian and Arabic cultures.  Hints of the earliest population expansion from around the Red Sea into Europe and of the later cultural renewal from the Middle East and north Africa are tantalisingly present.

And, finally, the numbers set out an almost accurate Christian calculation of the birth of its founder.  Partial commentators might say either that this is intrinsic (every year is one ‘of Our Lord’) or that the Christian layer is in fact only a thin one laid on top of what is a hybrid and substantially pagan foundation.

Perhaps a bastard form of pagan superstition is actually preserved in noting that those born that day (I am one of them) just avoided being born on the “Friday the Thirteenth” (something I actually regret a little – just missing out on a distinction shared by about 0.47% of the population); a heritage of low grade superstition.

What else?  1960 was the 50th anniversary of the death of Florence Nightingale, whose birthday this was; a heritage of care and professionalism.  On this particular day in 1960, there were explicit Soviet threats of nuclear war if America persisted in sending what it had thought were undetected spy planes, one of which had just been shot down; a heritage of divided Europe and ‘Cold War’. 

Meanwhile, I had to go up St George’s tower for a second time this year, so my 19th February picture of the new building going on next door (first posted here on 23rd February) is now matched by a 24th June one.

1 comment:

Joy Davis said...

I see from a notice posted in the field nearby that the builders have been granted permission to close the footpath for a whole year...how very convenient is that ..or how crafty. If a footpath has not been walked for a year it can be closed down...