CA 400 Letters – June

Your thoughts on issues raised by CA.

Phallic humour

When faced with conflicting theories, as there are about the phallic pestle (CA 398), I always think it is good to apply Occam’s Razor: avoid overthinking things as the simplest answer is probably the correct one.

In the case of the phallic pestle, the simplest explanation is that it was a smutty joke item, reflecting a squaddie’s sense of humour: ‘every time you use the pestle, you’ll be holding my…’. That would elicit a laugh from a donor now, and I can’t imagine that sort of thing has changed much; of course, whether the recipient laughed or not may be another matter.

Bob Britnell
Canterbury, Kent

Myriad questions

You might pass on to Rob Baldwin (Letters, CA 399), and to Chris Catling, that both Euripides and Herodotus used μυριάς as an adjective, and Shelley in ‘The Revolt of Islam’ (1827) wrote: ‘The city’s moonlit spires and myriad lamps’; Tennyson in his ‘Ode to Memory’ (1830): ‘Thou of the many tongues, the myriad eyes’. It was both noun and adjective in Classical Greek; it does seem to have been used only as a noun in early modern English, but became favoured as an adjective by 19th-century poets. My references are from Liddell & Scott (online), the new Cambridge Lexicon, and the OED.

Alan James
Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway

Myriad responses

I found Rob Baldwin’s comment on the word ‘myriad’ (CA 399) interesting. He states that ten thousand ‘was such a large number to the ancient Greeks that it acquired the sense of “a very large number almost beyond count”’. I suspect that the sequence was the other way round: the first sense was a vast number, and then came the application to a specific quantity. There is no known Indo-European root meaning ten thousand.

Homer uses the related word ‘myrios’ (in its neuter plural form ‘myria’) in the second line of the Iliad, referring to the numberless pains that the wrath of Achilles brought to the Achaeans. Autenrieth’s dictionary of Homeric Greek gives only that meaning. The use of ‘myrios’ to mean 10,000 comes slightly later (Hesiod uses it once), and the word ‘myrias’ does not seem to arrive until the period of Attic Greek.

Chantraine’s Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grec suggests a connection with the verb ‘myro’ (I flow) via a simile: ‘as many as the waves of the sea’.

Graham Asher
Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire

Spotting Seahenge’s sister

We thought your readers might be interested in this photo that we took on a recent walk in Norfolk (below). It shows the current condition of the timber circle known as Holme 2.

Photo: Christina Hilts

The monument is situated about 100m to the east of it’s more famous neighbour, Holme 1 (better known as ‘Seahenge’), and at 13m in diameter is twice the size.

Both timber circles have been dated to 2049 BC (see CA 294), and whilst the timbers of Seahenge were removed for preservation – with some now being housed in the Lynn Museum – the decision was made to leave Holme 2 in situ.

This latter ring of timbers has disappeared and reappeared a number of times since it first emerged 20 years ago, due to the shifting nature of the sand. The timbers were protruding by approximately 9” (23cm) during our visit this May, however the two central logs that were initially exposed have long since been washed away.

Richard and Chris Hilts
Hannington, Northamptonshire

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