Bear cub

Conrad Gesner: Historia animalium. Bear
One of my favorite readings by Erasmus is the De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione dialogus (Dialogue on the correct Latin and Greek pronunciation). The dialogue takes place between a lion and a bear. It is them who weigh up the pros and cons of the “Erasmian” pronunciation still in use in today’s erudite circles, and of the Modern Greek pronunciation which, according to the dialogue, was “reconstructed” by Erasmus himself, but according to a later report by Vossius he knew it from the news about some Greeks “of wonderful erudition” visiting Paris not much before. The lion and the bear discuss all these matters in the most refined Humanist Latin and with the most erudite Humanist pedantry. The dialogue begins like this.

Obolus from Caria-Mylasa, with lion’s head, c. 450-400 B.C.URSUS: Sit felix occursus, optime Leo, nam totos sex menses te non vidi. LEO: Istuc non temere precaris, Urse, neque enim quibuslibet bene cessit occurrisse Leoni. VR. Nae venuste, Leo, Imo ne Urso quidem. LE. Istuc sane malo tibi credere quam facere periculum, tametsi legimus Leonem inter bestias fortissimum ad nullius occursum expavescere. Caeterum Divinae literae testantur esse formidabilem occursum Ursae, cui sint erepti catuli. VR. Quaeso quid loquuntur de Ursa? LE. Liber Regnorum secundus sic habet: Viros fortissimos & amaro animo, veluti si ursa raptis catulis in sylva saeviat. VR. Quid propterea? LE. Solomon paroemiographus hunc in modum loquitur: Expedit magis occurrere ursae, raptis foetibus, quam stulto confidenti. Et apud Osee Prophetam ita minitatur Deus: Occurram eis quasi ursa raptis catulis. UR. Sit igitur impavidus Leo, quum bestia bestiis occurrit. Nam si qua fides apologis, Leo bestia fassus est formidabilem hominis occursum. Nunc seculum est aureum, quo Leonis Urso, Ursi Leoni laetus ac faustus est occursus. Opportune vero catulorum facta mentione mihi redigis in memoriam ego tibi magnopere gratulor. LE. Quo tandem nomine? UR. Quod tibi catulus domi natus est. LE. Hoc omen avertant Superi, ut mihi catulus dominetur. UR. Ajo dómi nâtum; audis accentum acutum in priore voce, in posteriore circumflexum. LE. At istud magis etiam abominandum. An tibi videor canis? UR. Minime, Leonem esse te non potes inficiari. Habent autem & Leones catulos. LE. Habent profecto, verum habent & Ursi.
Coin of Hadrian with bear’s headBEAR: Let our encounter be happy, oh excellent Lion, since I have not seen you for six entire months. LION: This is no empty supplication, oh Bear, since to most people it is no luck to encounter the Lion. BE: Of course, Lion. But not even the Bear! LI: This I believe you rather than getting in trouble, even if we read that the Lion is the strongest among all animals and he never retreats from any encounter. Nevertheless the divine Scripture attests that it is terrible to encounter the she-bear robbed of her cubs. BE: Please, tell me, what do they say about the she-bear? LI: It is written in the second book of the Kings: They are mighty men and they are fierce, like a she-bear robbed of her cubs in the forest. BE: And what else? LI: Solomon, the collector of excellent sayings spoke thus: It is better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a self-confident fool. And in the prophet Hoseas it is God who threatens like this: I will encounter them like the bear robbed of her cubs. BE: Well then, the Lion should stay undisturbed, when beast meets beast. For if we can give trust to animal fables, a beast should rather fear the encounter with the man. But now we live in a golden age, when the Lion is happy to meet the Bear and the Bear the Lion. But it was very opportune to mention the cubs, so you have reminded me to congratulate you. LI: On what reason? BE: On the occasion that a kid was born to you at home [domi natur]. LI: Let the gods keep far from me this bad omen that a kid would rule me [dominatur]. BE: I said dómi nâtum: you can hear the acute accent on the first syllabe and the inflexed tone on the second one, can’t you? LI: That would be an even more abominable thing! Or do I seem a dog to you? BE: Not to the least extent. You could not even deny of being a Lion. But even lions have kid, isn’t it. LI: Yes, really, just like bears do.

The Lion, animal of Judah appears to be much more well up in the Ancient Testament than in Classical Latin. The reason of his misunderstanding is that the Latin catulus is mostly used in the sense of the young of a dog, a puppy – yes, this is where the family name of both the Golden Age poet Catullus and the conspirator Catilina comes from, just like that of the Fabius from the bean, of the Ciceros from the pea, and of the Horatius from the garden: Latins were down-to-earth people –, but this same word was generally used for the young of any other four-footed animal. Like that of the lion for example, which equally howls and preys as catulus leonis in the Genesis, the Judges, the Psalms, Isaiah or Jeremiah.

Lion on a Greek coin
Or that of the bear, as the Lion attests it after realizing his mistake. Not only in the Vulgate, but also in the Latin poets, for example in Ovid, where the cyclops Polyphemus tries (in vain) to melt the heart of the nymph Galatea like this:

Inveni geminos, qui tecum ludere possint,
Inter se similes, vix ut dignoscere possis,
Villosae catulos in summis montibus ursae.

(Metamorphoses, XIII.834-836)....
I came upon two bear cubs that you can play with
they are twins: so alike you can hardly separate them
cubs of a shaggy bear, found upon the hilltop.

– to which the erudite Petrus Burmannus adds this sour comment in the great Paris edition of the Ovidii opera omnia of 1822: “Ad ludendum catuli ursae non nisi Polyphemo idonei videri poterant.” – “To actually play with bear cubs, this is an idea that can come only to Polyphemus’ mind.”

Obolus of Mantinea with bear’s head, c. 490-470 B.C.
The word catulus was associated with the young of the dog only by custom and not by etymology. For the proper diminutive form of dog – canis – should be caniculus, whose feminine form canicula means “extremely hot weather” in Hungarian and “summer holidays” – каникулы – in Russian, as it is in hot August that the sun rises in the constellation of the Lesser Dog. According to Walde’s Latin etymological dictionary, catulus comes from an ancient Indoeuropean *qatos meaning “young of animals” in general, and it still survives in words like Russian котиться, “give birth” or the Irish cadla and Old High German hatele, both meaning “goatling.”

Most languages, however, besides their own word for “young of animals” also use a separate term for the young of some animals or groups of animals. In Hungarian, for example, the general term is kölyök, but the kölyök of the bear – catulus ursae – is called bocs (pronounce “boch”). Where does it come from?

Footprint of black bear
The three volume Hungarian etymological dictionary A magyar nyelv történeti-etimológiai szótára (1967) like so many times, leaves us hanging with this term as well:

bocs 1792: „Bots: medve kölyök” (SzD.). J: 1. 1792: ’medvebocs; Bärenjunges’ (l. fent); 2. 1838: ’bizonyos állatok kicsinye; Junges gewisser Tierarten’ (Tsz.); 3. 1858: ’nyers vas- vagy acélöntvény-tömb; Dachel, Ofensau’ (Toldy: Műszótár: NSz.).
Ismeretlen eredetű. Eleinte erdélyi tájszóként jelentkezik. A szász E.
botsch ’koca, disznó’ és a magyar szó viszonya – jelentéstani okból – nem világos; bár föltehető, hogy összefüggenek, s hogy a magyar az átadó. – Az 1. és a 2. jelentés rokonsága nyilvánvaló; a 3. névátvitel eredménye lehet, de esetleg még megvizsgálandó az erdélyi szász viszonthatás vagy a német mintára történő tükörszó-alkotás lehetősége is; vö. ném. Ofensau ’vasöntvény, bocs’, Bär ’rosszul sikerült öntvény’. A 3. jelentéssel kapcsolatban vö. medve. – Honfoglalás utáni török jövevényszóként való magyarázata nem valószínű, kaukázusi, német és román származtatása téves.
Melich: Nyr. 24: 65, 557; Lumtzer–Melich: DOLw. 70, 305; Munkácsi: Ethn. 16: 79, KSz. 6:210; EtSz.; SzófSz; Rásonyi: NyK. 51: 102. (Drăganu: Rom. 68.)

bocs 1792: Bots: young of the bear” (SzD.). J: 1. 1792: ‘medvebocs; Bärenjunges’ (see above); 2. 1838: ‘young of certain animals; Junges gewisser Tierarten’ (Tsz.); 3. 1858: ‘a raw block of cast iron or steel; Dachel, Ofensau’ (Toldy: Műszótár: NSz.).
Of unknown origin. It is first documented as a Transylvanian dialectal word. The relation between the Transylvanian Saxon botsch ‘sow, pig’ and the Hungarian word is unclear, although they are probably connected, and the Hungarian term was the origin of the Saxon one. – The relation between meaning 1 and 2 is obvious. Meaning 3 can be the result of a translation of the name, although the possibility of the reaction of the Saxon word or a loan translation on German model cannot be excluded either: cf. German Ofensau ‘block of cast iron, bocs’, Bär ‘an abortive block of cast iron’. For meaning 3 see also the entry medve (bear). – Its attribution to a post-Conquest Turkish loan word is improbable, its attempts of derivation from German, Romanian or the Caucasus are mistaken.
Melich: Nyr. 24: 65, 557; Lumtzer–Melich: DOLw. 70, 305; Munkácsi: Ethn. 16: 79, KSz. 6:210; EtSz.; SzófSz; Rásonyi: NyK. 51: 102. (Drăganu: Rom. 68.)

We have seen that the Hungarian Etymological Dictionary has been compiled by a very strong Finno-Ugrist lobby which, for historical and political reasons reaching back to the 19th century, looks with extreme suspicion on any research of the Turkish, Iranian and other Eastern contributions to the Hungarian language – although there were a lot like this. We already know that “of unknown origin” in the HED means “unfortunately its Finno-Ugrian origin cannot be proved.” But what other possible origins exist?

Meaning 3 – “a raw block of cast iron or steel” – immediately reminds one of the Italian word boccia meaning a solid globe or bowl, and bozza meaning a roughed out (stone) block, a work hew out. However, the editors of the HED were not reminded of anything like that.

But now meanings 1 and 2 are much more interesting for us: the cub of the bear, or a cub/young animal in general. And these also remind me of a possibility which I cannot prove, but I would consider it well worthy of an etymological research. And this is the Persian word بچه bache/boche, “child / young of animals.”

Bears. Persian miniature. Khorasan, 16th centuryBears. Persian miniature. Khorasan, 16th century (from here)

The fact that Iranian words were assimilated into Hungarian is attested, apart from a number of entries in the HED, by a glossary published in 1999 by the Turcologist Péter Sára on the Hungarian words of Iranian origin, which lists on its 120 pages mostly words regarded as “of unknown origin” by the HED. These words come from a centuries long coexistence of Hungarian tribes with Iranian nomads, for example with Alans on the steppe, before the conquest of today’s Hungary in 896. It is by no chance that in the ancient legend of origins of the Hungarians – of which I want to write in a future post – the two broders Hunor and Magyar, forefathers of the Hun and of the Hungarian people, marry the daughters of an Alanian king.

The relation between Hungarian bocs and Iranian bache is made more probable by the fact that the Hungarian word also seems to have originally meant “child / young of animals” in general, and its meaning was limited to the young of the bear only later. The memory of the original meaning is kept in the frequently used term medvebocs “bear cub,” where the reference to medve, the bear, would be tautological if bocs only meant the young of the bear. As a counter-proof, there does exist in Hungarian a word which has always indicated the young of only one animal: the Slavic loanword bárány, lamb, which refers only to the young of the juh, sheep. This is obviously never used in the tautological form juhbárány.

This career of the word bocs is modelled by two other Hungarian words which originally also meant “young of animals” in general. The one is the Turkish loanword borjú, calf, which can refer beside the cattle to the young of a number of other animals of great size: teveborjú, szarvasborjú, elefántborjú, the young of the camel, of the deer, of the elephant. And the other is gida, goatling: kecskegida, szarvasgida, őzgida – the young of the goat, of the deer, of the roe.

The word gida is of course also regarded as “of unknown origin” in the HED, or more precisely, the dictionary offers two alternatives of origin. The one is the onomatope gidi-gidi, geda, gidu, traditionally used to call the goatling, while the other is the Biblical name Gideon, for – quote – “Gideon in the Bible cooked a goat as a sacrifice, and this is the reason why his name was transferred on the animal.” The fact that such an archaic theory, reminding of the times of the first Reformation when Hungarian language was related to ancient Hebrew by erudite zealots could find its way to the dictionary indicates the level of preparation of the HED. Nevertheless, the idea that the word gida can be related to the Indoeuropean cadla, hatele, Gitzel/Kitz, all meaning originally “young of animals” and later “goatling,” thus going through the same carrier like borjú and bocs, strangely did not even occur to the editors.

And finally, to make this Babelian fair complete, here you are an absurd short story from the Czech author Michal Ajvaz, which peculiarly unites the two meanings of Hungarian bocs: the bear cub and the raw, unworked, heavy block.

The friendly bear. Persian miniature, 18th c.The friendly bear. Persian miniature, 18th c.

The bear cub

I keep dragging along a bear cub in a backpack on my back. The bear cub is quite heavy and it keeps stirring in the pack. This makes me tired and exhausted. With a bear cub on my back I cannot pay enough attention to anything. So I do not have any lust of anything. If they came to tell me that I won a trip to Paradise, perhaps in the first moment I would be happy, but then I would immediately realize that even there I should carry on a heavy bear cub on my back, and all my joy would be gone away. I would say thanks, but would tell that “for family reasons I cannot participate.” How many experiences I have lost because of the bear cub! I could have been a guest on a party in the gardens of the seaside villas where the guests entertain themselves by throwing film stars in evening dress into the swimming pool. With the bear cub on my back I was not permitted to enter, or I myself did not try to get in anywhere.

Since long I have recognized that I should put down the backpack together with the bear cub, especially as I already don’t remember why I had started to carry it along, and because the bear cub did not get familiar with me. It lives in its small world, gruntin for itself, and does not care for me. But it is very difficult to suddenly change something that one has done for almost all his life. It requires much more courage than look into the face of some unexpected danger. If I pass by the terrible entrance of the Labyrinth of Radlice, avoided by anyone else, I often enter just by curiosity, and prick the sleeping Minotaurus with my umbrella. I can peacefully have a chat with the Gorgo Medusa which enters into the restaurant and sits at my table, while the other guests by screaming flee away. However, I found not enough courage to get rid of my backpack. What a small thing the Gorgo Medusa is in comparison with the bear cub.

In certain moments I suddenly stop on the street and I tell to myself: “How could I be such an idiot to have dragged along this bear cub for nothing! I will go home right now, I put down the backpack and I don’t take it up any more.” And I am immediately overwhelmed by happiness. I imagine how I would run through the city, getting rid of the burden of several years, jumping high on the street like an astronaut on the Moon, up to the height of the second floor, and waving my hand to the people looking out of the windows. It is already late, but perhaps the doors of the seashore villas are not yet definitely closed, perhaps I manage to arrive to the party, perhaps I can throw at least one film star into the swimming pool.

After a short time, however, doubts fall on me and I tell to myself: “Calm down. Take your time. Look before you leap. It is not so simple to make such an important step. Measure twice, cut once. Think it over thoroughly. You have enough time. Wait a little bit.”

And I wait, and my courage slowly dissipates, and I keep strolling about the streets with a bear cub on my back.

Tiger, tiger

Yoshka from Yaroslavl
Yoshka from Yaroslavl. A tiger, as Lena does not fail to stress it every time. We have seen him thirteen years ago, and already at that time he was a rascal of no small calibre, but by now he has grown into a veritable godfather among the frat boys of Yaroslavl. We have just received the criminology roundup on the last year in which, among other things, the following are reported:

Бился на даче с Буль-терьером. Не знаю, как у них возник спор, результат таков: хозяева Буль-терьера пришли жаловаться на Ёшу, что собаку изуродовали и у нее трясётся голова, а Ёшу мне пришлось увезти на лечение неживого и с обгрызенными передними лапами. Болел сильно, с неделю у него были на передних лапах боксерские перчатки из бинтов, он был так слаб, что не мог их снимать. И вообще, задумал помирать, пришлось вызвать врача на дом, да-к Ёша, не смотря на своё отходящее в иной мир состояние, не сдавался, пытался врача куснуть за укол.

At the dacha he came to blows with a pitbull. I don’t know the reasons, only the results. The owner of the pitbull came to complain about Yoshka, telling that the pitbull had the face completely spoiled and its head was trembling. And I had to take Yoshka to the clinics more dead than alive, with the forelegs bitten all over. He was very sick for a week, and wore boxing gloves out of gauze on both forelegs, but he was so weak that did not manage to take them off. He was about to die, so I had to call out the doctor. But Yoshka, not minding that he was due to depart this life, also tried to bite the doctor in change for the injection.

Peter Came-Off-BadlyOur image is just an illustration, representing a much more innocent animal. Directly from and indirectly from the collected cases of veterinary by Komaváry.

А последний его тигровый подвиг состоялся этой весной, - мы вообще опупели. Ко мне пришла Лена Митрофанова дать некоторые советы по ремонту, а у нее собачка, она всегда с ней в машине разъезжает. Собачка благовоспитанная и добрая, но порода берёт своё. У неё сибирский хаски с голубыми глазами, такая волчара крепкая, в холке 70 см. Вот они пришли, Герман сидел у меня на плечах, испугался, махом рванул на шкаф и стал оттуда шипеть в меру своих сил. А хаски-то думает "белка" и давай радостно гавкать на всю квартиру. Папа стал снимать Германа со шкафа, а я открыла дверь в маленькую комнату, чтобы туда Германа спрятать. И тут из-за двери, как чёрт из табакерки выскочил Ёша. Я в принципе знаю, как кошки нападают - встают в дугу, пушатся и шипят, и вот этой дугой идут на неприятеля. Ёша - кот бойцовский, с опытом - выскочил против такого гиганта и встал в стойку - передние лапы широко расставлены, задние подогнуты (похоже на лягушку), стал шипеть и грозиться по-кошачьи басом (МА-У), и наступать. Хаски опешил. А Ёша лапами не перебирал, а скачками (как лягушка прыгает) наступал и грозно МА-У. Все окружающие испугались. Я выставила ногу в ботинке, чтобы удержать Ёшу, а Митрофанова спешно спасала своего Хаски. Потом Ёша гордился, его кормили мясом, восхищались, а он говорил: "Да. Я такой".

He perpetrated his last tiger’s deed in the spring, to our complete shock. Lena Mitrofanova came to see me and to give some advices on the rearrangement of the flat. She has a puppy which always travels with her in the car, a very well educated and proper little dog, but nature requires its share, isn’t it. The doggy is a Siberian husky with deep blue eyes, an energetic little wolf, measuring about seventy centimeters at the withers. All right, they come in. German [the younger cat] was just sitting on my laps, and he was so frightened that he immediately jumped on the top of the cupboard, screaming from there as he could. The husky realized: “A squirrel!” – and he started to happily barking all around the flat. Dad began to take German off the cupboard, and I opened the door of the little room to hide him there. But in that moment, from somewhere behind the door like the devil from the box, Yoshka jumped out. I have seen a couple of times how cats launch an attack, by bending their back, ruffling up their hair, shrieking and then ranting at the enemy. Yoshka as a well experienced fighting cat exactly knew how to act in face of such a giant. He sprawled the claws of his forelegs, pulling the hind legs under himself like a frog, and by counterpointing his shrieking with a threatening cat’s bass (MA-OOOOW) he was about to attack. The husky drew back in a panic. However, Yoshka did not attack yet, but stood upon his hind paws like a jumping frog, and continued the terrible MA-OOOOW. The blood of the bystanders froze. I lifted my foot in the boot to block the way of Yoshka, while Mitrofanova quickly saved out her husky. After this Yoshka went around proudly, was fed with meat, everyone admired him, and he only said: “Yes. I’m like this.”

This strategy must be a common heredity of the knights of the ice fields. For Muska also presented this performance at us when she was still little, but already a Siberian cat to the core. My sister Anni brought her two hounds to us. Muska, to counterweight her small stature, jumped on the top of the table, and there she performed this battle dance accompanied with a horrific shrieking. The two hounds pissed under themselves and fled in a total panic. When I counted this story to Lena in my reply to her report, she exultingly wrote:

ЭТО НАША МУСКА – русско-венгерская (на столе, как в лучших салонах, прямо czardas какой-то), славянская мадьярка. Настоятельница покоев и устроительница уставов. На столе-престоле.

THIS IS OUR MUSKA! – this is Russian-Hungarian blood! (on the table as in the best saloons! obviously some sort of czardas!), this Slavic-Magyarka! The guardian of peace, the establishment of the law. Na stole–prestole. On the table – like on the throne.

Ruth Sanderson, Papa Gatto(From Ruth Sanderson’s Renaissance cats)

Sant Antoni

Palma de Mallorca, holy water basin with Saint Anthony
In the moments as I’m writing this, in Palma de Mallorca, on the large square at the cathedral on the sea front there are gathering all kinds of animals from the city and the nearby fincas in order to appear in solemn procession before Saint Anthony at the Claustro de Sant Antoniet in the old town. The route already has been carpeted with sand, the local dignities and the representatives of the farmers’ association already have taken seat on the occasional wooden platform in front of the church, and the crowd behind the bars and on the balconies is looking forward with excitement to the mounted policemen leading the procession and on this occasion having their animals blessed as well.

Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Unfortunately in this year I cannot be there, thus I am rehashing old times only with the pictures taken in the last year. I apologize for the quality of the images, as in the crowd I could only take a picture here and now with the camera lifted above my head. Thus the best moments are only fixed in my memory.

Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Several farms come in procession on a tractor and with a cage displaying the cream of the beast.

Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessingThe car of the blind man’s dogs. In front of them went that of the policemen’s dog.

Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Between the other animals receive their blessing also the dimonis who on the previous night were busy on the temptation of Saint Anthony all over the island. And the masquerade figures receive theirs too. This cat bridegroom is leading a mouse bride.

Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
Palma de Mallorca, Sant Antoni, blessing
The blessing was addressed not only to the animals present, but also to those absent. I took home the little picture of Saint Anthony which was distributed as a proof of this. While I’m writing this, it keeps its benevolent eye on the beast laying around my chair.

Golden apples from Mallorca

Rhinocerology 5. A distant relative

Although I wanted to speak about the Far Eastern occurrences of the rhinoceros only later, nevertheless now I have to lead forward a Japanese animal. On the one hand because I’m already late with its presentation, for I received it from Komaváry in Tokyo as a New Year present, and on the other hand because it fits very well here, at the end of the Dürer pedigree, as its farthest descendant both in time and in space.

True, the following comics is not about the rhinoceros, but about an elephant… however, wait till the end. And anyway I’m planning to add a post on the elephant and on the rhinoceros, so let this one be a trailer (coming! coming!) to it.

To understand the basic concept of the comics (why does the elephant work like this?) you have to know that the Chinese name of the elephant – 象 xiàng – also means ‘image, imagination’, and this is how it is used in Japanese, too. I don’t know why. It is quite rare in Chinese that a character has two meanings as distant as these. The character itself is simply the image of an elephant, rotated in 90 degrees to economize on space. From the inscriptions of ancient bronzes, oracle bones and stamps this is how we can reconstruct its etymology:

Formation of the Chinese character of elephant 象
In vain I browse through the Chinese historical dictionaries, they do not give any hint as to the reason of this peculiar homonym. However, I seem to remember to have read somewhere in the great French sinologist Claude Larre that around the creation of this character the elephant was on the verge of extinction in China, and soon there was left none. Its Chinese character, however, remained, and in order to take some good use of it, they indicated with it the word ‘image, similarity, imagination’ pronounced in the same way as ‘elephant’: xiàng. By this they also referred, to some extent, to the elephant, for by that time it had become a fabulous, imaginary animal in China. Do you remember the Zen story where blind people feeling the elephant imagine it as a thick column, as a great wall or as a boa, depending on where they stand? 瞎摸象, xiā mó xiàng, “the blind is feeling the elephant”, as the proverb says. Nevertheless, in those times Chinese people with healthy eyes could not have more precise ideas about the look of the animal either.

There exists another character of a similar meaning 像 xiàng, in which the sign for “man” stands in front of the elephant. In Chinese this means ‘portrait, statue’ (surely as a result of the compound “man+image”), while in Japanese, writes Komaváry, it is a component of the word 想像力 sōzōryoku, “imagination.” Is it perhaps the blind man, he asks, feeling the elephant? While I imagine how much it could have stimulated the imagination of old Japanese people when, perhaps once in a life, an elephant appeared in the town and a man in front of it: a showman, a juggler, a tender. Someone like the protagonist of the following story.

The Japanese inscriptions have been translated by Komaváry. You can read them in a popup window by moving above them with the mouse. Images in a row are read from right to left according to the Japanese custom. Our javascript popups do not work in Google Reader, so reader addicts are invited to come in. The elephant will hunch up a bit.

This rhinoceros is the last one not only in the melancholic zoology of the comics, but also in the sense that this animal, published a month ago, in December 2008, is the last descendant of the Dürer woodcut known to me. Have you seen its armory and horn on the withers?

I think this similarity is intentional. For the author could have found a thousand images on living rhinoceroses, and nevertheless he decided to copy the figure of Dürer. This is because to his ingenious story on imagination – xiàng – he needed precisely an imaginary rhinoceros. How can we prove this? With the etymology of the Chinese – and also Japanese – name of the rhinoceros.

The Chinese name of the rhinoceros – 犀 – is a combination of the characters 尾 wĕi ‘tail’ and 牛 niú ‘cattle’, meaning something like ‘cattle with a tail’. That the rhinoceros is similar to the cattle is all right. But why did they emphasize just the tail, perhaps the least significant member of the rhinoceros? To understand it, we have to know that the rhinoceros in Chinese fairy tales – for a real one has been just as unknown there in the last thousands of years as a real elephant – has a long tail. And lo, can you see which tail does this one on the last picture try to conceal behind its tender?…

Perhaps even the elephant leaving on the wings is a reference to the flight of imagination, although I do not know whether this expression exists in Japanese. And although the rhinoceros seems to be a much more down-to-earth being, nevertheless… I only say you’d better take care.

Oleg Dozortzev: A house of the winged rhinoceros, 2008Oleg Dozortzev: A house of the winged rhinoceros, 2008


As at the beginning of every year, the flower beds of Hortus Carmeli have been increased by one. Kata has composed her selection of her photos made in the garden during the last year. As the garden is getting more and more mature, it is increasingly difficult to decide which pictures to omit from the bouquet. Nevertheless we hope that with these eighty and something we have managed to embrace the garden in space and in time.

Öt évszak: tavaszSpring

Öt évszak: nyárSummer

Öt évszak: őszAutum

Öt évszak: télWinter

Rhinocerology 4. The truth suppressed

The rhinoceros of Nicko Rubinstein
Evolutionary dead-end. This is how biological taxonomy calls those genotypes which branch off the tree of evolution, get stuck and then fall off (can you follow the metaphor?), or else they salvage their gene stock in ecosystems protected from evolutionary competitors and they continue far from the main stream of phylogeny their no longer purposeful race-preserving activity.

The rhinoceros of Nicko Rubinstein
Of course one can establish only retrospectively which of the two branches became the main stream. In a given moment the other one may even have everything in its favor, it can be stronger, more intelligent or beautiful than the main stream. Like, for example, dinosaurs were in contrast to primitive shrew, the first mammal. The main stream, however, has one incomparably great advantage in contrast to the dead end. Namely the fact that retrospectively it was the other that proved to be the dead end.

Examination of a 200 million years old fossil in the Victoria Museum, Australia
Similar branching off happened in the first decades of the 16th century, during the naturalization of the rhinoceros in Europe.

The rhinoceros of Dürer, drawing, 1515
We have seen that Renaissance representations of rhinoceros all derive, either directly or indirectly, from the 1515 engraving of Dürer. And through it from the above preparatory drawing preserved in the British Museum, made by Dürer on the basis of a drawing made from nature of the Lisbon beast.

No wonder that Dürer’s engraving had such success. Its convincing anatomy and statics give the impression of an authentic representation, while its compact modelling and stylized elaboration makes it a captivating picture and a marketable illustration. So much that – as we have already seen and will also see in other examples – even its inaccuracies, the „horn on withers,” the „armory” or the „dragon pattern” were transposed on the copies of other representations of the animal (ancient coins, pictures of different animals). The latest offspring of this engraving was born in December 2008 (!), less than a month ago, but this will be presented in the next post.

However, palaeontologists have recently unearthed also some fossil rhino specimens, which were all born in the same time as that of Dürer and apparently from the same parent, but they differ in some decisive details from the var. Düreris.

The rhinoceros by Hans Burgkmair, 1515
This woodcut has survived in one single copy in the Albertina of Vienna. Its maker Hans Burgkmair from Augsburg was a student of Martin Schongauer, the most important woodcutter before Dürer. Beginning with 1508 he made several hundreds of woodcuts for Emperor Maximilian I, similarly to Dürer, or often together with him.

Rhinoceros, engraving by Giovanni Giacomo Penni, 1515The source of Burgkmair’s woodcut was apparently the same sketch as to Dürer’s (and probably also to that of Giovanni Giacomo Penni, here to the left). No wonder, for the imperial commissions were procured for both of them by Dürer’s friend, the court humanist Konrad Peutinger of Augsburg. It was probably him who handed over to both of them the original sketch and description sent from Lisbon to “the merchants of Nuremberg.”

It seems that the woodcut of Burgkmair stood closer to the original drawing. It maintained the leg-straps, also visible on Penni’s woodcut, on the forelegs (which contributed to the death of the animal during the naufrage), its skin is more similar to the hard wrinkles of the Indian rhinoceros than the armory drawn by Dürer, and even its pattern is more realistic. According to modern experts, the round spots might be the symptom of the inflammation of skin which can in fact occur among rhinoceroses.

The two woodcuts were made in the same time, by two comparably outstanding masters, for the same public. This public, however, accepted only Dürer’s stylized representation, even making an icon out of it, while rejecting that of Burgkmair, even though this stood much closer to the reality. This rejection was so definitive that had this single copy of the image not survived we would not even known it had ever existed.

The differences between their respective style are well displayed by the images of the monumental composition The Triumphal Procession of Maximilian I assembled of 135 woodcuts (1518-1522), which were made principally by the two masters. Well, if we are allowed culicem elefanti conferre, to compare a mosquito to the elephant, as their friend Erasmus wrote in the same time in proverb 3.1.27 of his Adages. For Burgkmair’s picture represents the charriot of the jesters, while Dürer’s that of Maximilian himself encircled by his virtues. However, this division of labor is not accidental, but it shows how much more the stylized woodcuts of Dürer alloying Gothic with Quattrocento were appreciated by the period than the more naturalistic, loose-limbed, Brueghelian figures of Burgkmair. (You are recommended to see the pictures also enlarged.)

Hans Burgkmair: Triumphal procession of Maximilian I
Dürer: Triumphal procession of Maximilian I
As it often cannot be determined whether two fossils belonged to the same subspecies, so we cannot tell about another individual rhinoceros finding from this period whether it was made after Burgkmair’s woodcut and complemented with some elements of Dürer’s one, or it is rather a direct copy of the lost first sketch. But we think it must be rather this latter. This hypothesis is also supported by the fact that this drawing was made on the commission of Maximilian I, and its master was that most probably the same Albrecht Altdorfer who also prepared some of the woodcuts of the Triumphal procession. This animal survived in a marginal drawing of the prayer book of Maximilian I, made in 1515 and conserved in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Besançon. However, in spite of the distinguished niche and the greater closeness to reality, this representation also succumbed in the struggle for existence to its Dürerian evolutionary rival.

Prayer book of Emperor Maximilian I, 1515
A rudimentary “horn on the withers” occurs in this picture, too. Thus there had to be something already on the first drawing which led to the stylized “second horn” of Dürer’s rhinoceros. I wonder so much what it could have been.

Finally also a third, isolated rhinoceros survived from these years, and in a sculptural form to that, in Westphalia, on the stall erected in 1520 in the choir of the Saint Martin church in Minden. This one was certainly not made on the basis of the original sketch, but of a woodcut, as it was customary in the period. Perhaps right after the woodcut of Burgkmair which thus did not remain without an offspring. This little figure is so plastic, so vivid, that I would gladly continue the phylogenic metaphor by saying that, similarly to the Jurassic fauna surviving on the island of the Pacific, it has also withdrawn to this silent island, rendering its phenotype somewhat piglet-like, and since then it has been living its calm life between two ever-yielding vine trees.

Rhinoceros statuette on the stalls in the choir of Minden’s Saint Martin church, 1520

A: But why was it exactly the woodcut of Dürer to become so successful, and why were the others neglected?
B: I write under the drawing of Dürer that on the one hand it gave a very authentic anatomical and statical impression, and on the other hand it was both compact and stylized in a way very much appreciated by the period.
A: I think this is not enough. It also must have contributed to its success that this woodcut is like a jewel, so emblematic and subtly elaborated. The other drawings are so much “animal-like,” you can almost feel their smell.
B: I think this did not disturb the Renaissance at all, they were accustomed to this level of corporeality, and what is more they even required it. Even on the pictures. The great zoology of Gesner from 1551 is full of such pictures. There the illustrations of the ungulates are so similar to the image of Burgkmair that it would have been certainly included if the drawing of Dürer had not existed.
A: Well, that’s right. But even then, it is this stylized and jewel-like appearance that capturates you the most in it.
B: Perhaps we only feel so after the Art Nouveau. It is no chance that Dürer was rediscovered in the 19th century. True, also the Renaissance required a certain degree of stylizedness, especially then, in early sixteenth-century German court art, but this was only one of the ingredients of Dürer’s success, and perhaps not even the more important one. I rather think that his period loved those compact, statue-like figures constituting a space around themselves which were learned by Dürer from the “pathos figures” of the Italian Quattrocento. Such figures are used also in the Triumphal procession, and such is the rhinoceros as well.