Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rumour has it …

While I followed a technology career (or careers. rather), I have always been very interested in learning foreign languages which started when I studied Latin and French at high school (until the final year, when I dropped them to focus on the sciences).

All these decades on, I still can recall the famous onomatopoeia stetit illa tremens describing (when pronounced appropriately) the quivering of the spear that had been hurled with force into the side of the Trojan horse, so aptly pictured in Virgil’s Aenid Book II.

Another Roman poet, Ovid, was rather good at describing the insidiousness of rumour and how it spreads like wildfire. To quote a translation into English from Ovid’s The Metamorphoses:

Book XII:39-63 - The House of Rumour

      There is a place at the centre of the World, between the zones of earth, sea, and sky, at the boundary of the three worlds.  From here, whatever exists is seen, however far away, and every voice reaches listening ears. Rumour lives there, choosing a house for herself on a high mountain summit, adding innumerable entrances, a thousand openings, and no doors to bar the threshold. It is open night and day: and is all of sounding bronze. All rustles with noise, echoes voices, and repeats what is heard. There is no peace within: no silence anywhere. Yet there is no clamour, only the subdued murmur of voices, like the waves of the sea, if you hear them far off, or like the sound of distant thunder when Jupiter makes the dark clouds rumble.

      Crowds fill the hallways: a fickle populace comes and goes, and, mingling truth randomly with fiction, a thousand rumours wander, and confused words circulate. Of these, some fill idle ears with chatter, others carry tales, and the author adds something new to what is heard. Here is Credulity: here is rash Error, empty Delight, and alarming Fear, sudden Sedition, and Murmurings of doubtful origin. Rumour herself sees everything that happens in the heavens, throughout the ocean, and on land, and inquires about everything on earth.

The Roman scribes seem to have been preoccupied by this theme, witness Virgil’s The Aenid Book IV:173-197 - Rumour Reaches Iarbas:

Rumour raced at once through Libya’s great cities,
Rumour, compared with whom no other is as swift.
She flourishes by speed, and gains strength as she goes:
first limited by fear, she soon reaches into the sky,
walks on the ground, and hides her head in the clouds.
Earth, incited to anger against the gods, so they say,
bore her last, a monster, vast and terrible, fleet-winged
and swift-footed, sister to Coeus and Enceladus,
who for every feather on her body has as many
watchful eyes below (marvellous to tell), as many
tongues speaking, as many listening ears.
She flies, screeching, by night through the shadows
between earth and sky, never closing her eyelids
in sweet sleep: by day she sits on guard on tall roof-tops
or high towers, and scares great cities, as tenacious
of lies and evil, as she is messenger of truth.
Now in delight she filled the ears of the nations
with endless gossip, singing fact and fiction alike:
Aeneas has come, born of Trojan blood, a man whom
lovely Dido deigns to unite with: now they’re spending
the whole winter together in indulgence, forgetting
their royalty, trapped by shameless passion.
The vile goddess spread this here and there on men’s lips.
Immediately she slanted her course towards King Iarbas
and inflamed his mind with words and fuelled his anger.

I recalled those Latin works when yesterday I stumbled upon La rumeur, si douce à nos oreilles (Rumour, so sweet to our ears):

      La rumeur fait partie de notre nature et tout le monde participe à sa propagation. On a tort de penser que seule une catégorie de personnes adorent les rumeurs, car ce serait de l’hypocrisie. C’est quasiment une obligation dans certains scènes de notre société, car vous serez mis en marge si vous n’aimez pas les ragots. La rumeur se définit par une histoire qui est difficile à authentifier, mais ses aspects séduisent notre volonté de faire du mal à autrui. …


      Rumor is part of our nature and everyone is involved in its spread. It is wrong to think that only one class of people love rumors, because that would be hypocritical. It's almost a requirement in some sections of our society, because you will be marginalized if you do not like gossip. Rumor is defined by a story that is difficult to authenticate, but its aspects appeal to our desire to hurt others. …
[here’s a Google translation into English]

It behoves us all to to stop ourselves from perniciously spreading rumours. So, everybody, strenuously resist the urge! But alas, I fear that rumour will be with us forever.

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