28 December 2005

The first Onuspedia entry: 'Skwandro'

The trustworthiness of information is today challenged as never before. The Times of India sums up the 'storm' succinctly, and this St. Petersburg Times story is a good example of the crowing tone: When Wikipedians run amok on orderly online encyclopedia
What's the difference between an expert and an enthusiast?
the newspaper asks.

What's an innocent enthusiast to do? But worse, what's an innocent entry to do?

I heartily concur with the need to be forever vigilant. Many reputations have been sullied by inaccurate biographies, such as this description of the medlar in the two-volume £150.00 Cambridge World History of Food: a small, round, brown fruit that looks like a plum. The entry was quite small and didn't include a picture, but I'll post one here (taken with my own fair camera) for nothing:
I'm posting my own picture because Wikipedia's picture of a medlar also fails to look like a plum. Perhaps our cameras are inexpert. Wikipedia's entry, by the way, is far more informative than that of the hundred-and-fifty pounder, which doesn't even contain the word 'blet'.

Because of the untrustworthiness of information in entries of importance, my conscience calls upon me to do my bit. Thus, today, I must shine the light of knowledge upon another subject I happen to know something about. You might have recognised advertisements in publications such as The Economist and Foreign Affairs. If so, you probably know more than I. The upshot is, for those who haven't noticed, there are now exciting career opportunities, though the view from your workplace won't be. It is a field about which I predict much misinformation to come, but at the moment, there is a paucity.Therefore, I am launching with this posting, the first entry in the Onuspedia, your free guide to the previously hardly known:


James Godolphin (1780-1818?) was an adventurer but he was also at one time respected as a translator of Aramaic and Sumerian texts. His seminal work, like Darwin's, was deceptively small — only 52 pages. He titled it Squann-drough. In this epic, men of leather and lash gnashed against each other like millstones (Godolphin's words). He never revealed the exact place that he found the tablets. For the better part of ten years, he decoded them in the privacy of his secluded estate.

When he revealed
Squann-drough at the Royal Geographic Society in 1804, the cries of fraud were few. He was praised for his scholarship, his poetic cadence, and his monkish seclusion, dedicated to the cause of revealing the language and the message. The eight-word curse-prediction central to the message of the book was the subject of many learned papers. The opposition of leading bishops made Godolphin a celebrity, and in 1810, he became Sir James.

Yet, only a few years later, the discovery of the
Skwan-dhro (as Godolphin's 3th edition spelled it) fell into obscurity, as subsequent adventurers found nothing. Thus, by the tenth anniversary of Godolphin's appearance at the Royal Geographic Society, Sir James Godolphin and Squann-drough were synonyms for hoax. As to that prediction, it further poisoned Godolphin's reputation when Bartholomey McCauley himself translated the famous eight words — as a mundane list of nouns.

No one knows the date Sir James Godolphin died. His body was found in his bed by a debt collector. There was some speculation that he died on the same day as the celebrated virgin spinster of Chute Forest — 'mother of 32 frogs'.

In 1916, a camel helped to restore Godolphin's reputation when it uprooted a thornbush, exposing a rubbish-heap of tablets that turned out to be goods lists. The camel's rider was T.E. Lawrence, 'Lawrence of Arabia', and he said he kissed the sands when he read the first tablet. The noted linguist recognised the language at once. Because of warring tribes, he was unable ever again to visit the site of his discovery, but he legitimised the Aemetic language and the Aemete Kingdom. In 1921, his own version of the epic was published to a lack of acclaim. Though written for both a popular and academic readership, its battle-lust (and no sex) and that grim curse-prediction were 'positively pre-War', as one critic noted. Academically also, Lawrence should have realised that he was no longer tolerated. Even if he had concentrated on one discipline, his earlier celebrity had tainted him. However, he did prove that the academic world had a find that could be disputed.

By 1929, Aemetic scholarship was in its golden age. Lewis F. Cunningham of Harvard published a new translation that cleaned away the poeticisms of Godolphin. 'Pure translation, unadulterated by poetry, unsullied by sensational predictions', says his foreword to
Fight to the Death: The Book of Skwandro, translated directly from the Ametic. The Depression, and then the next war, took their toll. The ranks of scholars suffered further decimation post-war due to the waning of interest in all Mideast languages that weren't directly related to the Book.

In 2003 the tablets were stolen from the University of Utah. This theft coincided with a rebirth of interest in the Aemetic language and culture. There are today, no popular translations. The most respected texts are the Harvard edition by Cunningham (out of print) and his
Skwandro Concordance (out of print). Sir Geoffrey Gyre's 1929 Cambridge Comprehensive Aemetic Lexicon is now being revised, according to the publisher. T.E. Lawrence's Sahan-ro: A Thousand and One Wars is out of print.

For a discussion of the theft, see Lt. Col. Brewster ('Bud') Langley's 'The Skwandro Prediction' in
Armor, the Magazine of Mounted Warfare,Volume XI, no. 4, July 2002

An expert is someone who always makes sure of the spelling.


Anonymous said...

It is indeed unusual to find such erudition, given freely and with relish, in the blogosphere.

T.E. Lawrence, what a name to conjure with.

And Sir Geoffrey Gyre's work: such limpid prose, such seamless art.

But, no mention of Lord Pemberton Gimble? Alas.

Greetings and congratulations,


anna tambour said...

I must rectify the Alasness. You have my word, and my humble apology for leaving them unmentioned. I beg laziness. It is sometimes difficult to know what an appropriate entry is, and whether to put in Lord Pemberton Gimble or Lord Pemberton Gimble gave me dyspepsia.

Anonymous said...

Many Thanks Ms Tambour,

Nowadays it is sadly forgotten that Sir Barry Humphries, AO, was a scholar of the Aemetic tongue in his undergraduate youth, and indeed coined the rather unseemly term "technicolor yawn' in his early ditty "Chunder in the Old Pacific Sea" - how far away from Lawrence's Arabian desserts!!

Having foregone the academic route and a life of selfless service to the lost worlds of the Aemetic, he lapsed into several confused states and jolly well made a spectacle of himself in the public realm, engaging in staged events.

Sad, so sad.


anna tambour said...

I'm swimming in tears!

And to think that he went for such temporary, glittery, clammy upliftingness--as welcomed, yet doomed to be forgotten as a glass of beer when, oh! he could have had the fame of a scholar: a dried forget-me-not under glass.

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed it is pitiful and very sad.

But dry your tears, fair lady: you who have rendered forth Skwandric studies to the contemporary gaze via this ethereal net of uncorporeal skeins... and hold firm to the hope that future bands of diligent persons will take up the threads and elevate the Aemetic.

in awe of your