Saturday, August 10, 2013

Myriad, manifold, and the Mountains of the Moon

In my previous piece, I used the expression "myriad and manifold" with reference to the reasons behind the dire situation the city of Detroit is currently in. To whit (my boldface):
And the reasons for the ramming are myriad and manifold, whose totality had led to a dire situation in the once-great city wherein the prospect of bankruptcy became almost a welcome relief for those who understood the challenges ahead.
After posting the piece, I got to thinking about the phrase, wondering if it might confuse people who were unfamiliar with it and/or if it might suggest a kind of intellectual snobbery on my part for using it (for the record, I'm fine with the latter, because I am an intellectual snob; know thyself). I think it's a great phrase, really, for it's perfectly apt for conveying an idea: a great number of things of various sorts or natures, yet all still related in some way or another.

"Myriad" comes from the Greek word myrias, meaning ten thousand. That specific meaning was carried forward in many other languages that borrowed from the Greek. Some early metric systems used "myria" as a prefix in the same way as "cent" (one hundred) and "kilo" (one thousand). Thus, a myriameter would be equivalent to 10,000 meters. Today, myriad means just a very large number, as in "a myriad of butterflies."

"Manifold," in contrast, is a far more recent word (by at least one thousand years). It comes from the Old English word manigfeald, meaning simply "many folds." Similar words existed in both German and Dutch. But the sense of the word is not just many, but also of diversity. For instance, one might refer to "a manifold of causes for the Great Depression." It's not the quantity that is central, but rather the very different natures of such causes.

Thus again, the expression "myriad and manifold" means a great number of things, all of which are different from each other, yet are related to the subject of the phrase. Using my example, the phrase means that Detroit is in its current situation for many, many reasons, reasons that are very dissimilar, yet are all still contributory to the whole.

But given the very different etymologies of the two words, I still wondered how and when the phrase was coined. As is the case with many great turns of the phrase, I assumed the source was probably the Bible. "Myriad," however, doesn't make any appearances in the KJV. In the KJV--which was itself based on older translations going back to the Tyndale Bible, translated from the original Greek and Hebrew--the Greek myrias is translated literally into "ten thousand." For instance, this is Deuteronomy 32:30 in the KJV:
How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?
And this is the same verse in the Tyndale Bible:
Howe it cometh that one shall chace a thousande, and two putt ten thousande off them to flyghte? excepte theire rocke had solde them, and because the Lorde had delyuered them.
However, in the YLT--Young's Literal Translation of the Bible, published in 1862--"myriad" reappears, some twelve times. The same verse in the YLT:
How doth one pursue a thousand, And two cause a myriad to flee! If not -- that their rock hath sold them, And Jehovah hath shut them up?
Moreover, professors of religion--and other scholars--along with learned priests and ministers might very well slip into the original Greek, when speaking about the Bible or the period in general. Because again, "myriad" is a literary word at the very least.

But what about "manifold"? In this case, the KJV is sufficient to find the usage of the term, but it is also in the YLT along with many other English translations, as well. Interestingly, it's used more frequently in the YLT than in the KJV. For instance, there is Hebrews 2:4. In the YLT, "manifold" is used:
God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.
But the KJV substitutes "divers" (obviously meaning diverse) for "manifold":
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
And in that respect, it is again following the Tyndale Bible:
God bearynge witnes therto bothe with sygnes and wonders also and with divers miracles and gyftes of the holy gooste accordynge to his awne will.
Nonetheless, both words can still rightly be looked at as "Bible words," terms whose frequency of use rose in the common vernacular, thanks to their appearance in various editions of the Bible. Still, they're never used together in any Bible verse in any translation of which I am aware. And let's be clear: it is only in a translation of some much older work that we might find the phrase "myriad and manifold," given the etymology of the latter.

Without further ado, here is such a translation, one of a prayer, though not from a Christian or Jewish text:
Homage to thee, O thou who art Ra when thou risest and Tmu when thou seltest. Thou risest, thou risest, thou shinest, thou shinest, thou who art crowned king of the gods. Thou art the lord of heaven, [thou art] the lord of earth, [thou art] the maker of those who dwell in the heights, and of those who dwell in the depths. Thou art the one god who came into being in the beginning of time. Thou didst create the world, thou didst fashion man, thou didst make the watery abyss of the sky, thou didst form Hapi, thou art the maker of the streams and of the great deep, and thou givest life to all that is therein. Thou hast knit together the mountains, and thou hast made to come into being both man and beast. Thou hast created the heavens and the earth...O thou divine youth, thou everlasting Son, thou self-begotten one, who didst give birth to thyself, thou One of myriad and manifold germs and aspects, king of the world, prince of Annu, lord of eternity, who knowest everlastingness, the company of the gods sing for joy when thou risest and when thou sailest across the horizon...Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years [have passed over] the world; I cannot tell the number of those through which thou hast passed. Thy heart hath decreed a day of happiness in thy name of "Traveller." Thou dost journey over untold spaces of millions and of hundreds of thousands of years; thou sailest over them in peace, and thou steerest thy way over the watery abyss to the place which thou lovest; this thou doest in one little moment of time, and thou dost sink down and dost make an end of the hours.'
That piece is a "Hymn of Praise to Ra When He Riseth in the Eastern Part of Heaven," a translation from the Egyptian Book of the Dead penned by none other than famed Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge in 1895. Budge--who died in 1934 at the age of 77--wrote and published extensively on the topic of Egypt, from language to culture to religion. His works were gobbled up by late nineteenth and early twentieth century academics and dilettantes alike who were interested in Egyptian history, as well as in spirituality beyond Christianity. As such, the appearance of Egyptian "cults" in reality and fiction, along with the popularization of the "Curse of the Pharoahs," depended on Budge's many books both for background and as sources for esoteric rituals intended to mimic those of Ancient Egypt.

Budge was an excellent writer and wordsmith, and I can't help but think the prose of his translations carried forward, thus contributing to the use of phrases like "myriad and manifold." Because frankly, I can find no other authoritative source that uses it.

My investigation, however, was still quite fruitful, for not only did it take me from the Tyndale Bible to the Book of the Dead, it also led me to an odd little debate in Yahoo! Groups about the origins of mankind, in context of the supposed marginalization of black Africans in history. This idea was largely a product of the historian Cheikh Anta Diop, who put forth the idea that racism had heavily tinged historical scholarship well into the twentieth century (and he had a fair point to some degree). Diop--something of a lightning rod on racial issues--forcefully argued that Ancient Egypt was best understood as an African civilization proper, as opposed to trying to carve out a separate niche for the Egyptians in history. The latter, he argued, was a consequence of Eurocentric scholars who tended to link Egyptian civilization to Greek and therefore European civilization, thus breaking off Egypt from its proper African context.

Diop's arguments were often misunderstood, by critic and fan alike. Such is the case in the discussion I viewed in Yahoo! Groups. The participants there rely heavily on the ideas of Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, a thoroughly Afrocentric writer who takes Diop's arguments too far, to the point that it becomes a matter of personal pride for him to maintain that the Ancient Egyptians were black Africans, in a thoroughly modern sense.

One of Dr. Ben's (as he is known) claims is that the Egyptians came from the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon, "where the god Hapi dwells." But he goes even farther, insisting that the source of the Nile, the source of the Egyptians, is in fact the source of all mankind:
When we speak of the Nile Valley, of course we are talking about 4,100 miles of civilization, or the beginning of the birth of what is today called civilization. I can go to one case of literature in particular which will identify the Africans as the beginners of the civilization to which I refer. And since I am not foreign to the works of Africans in Egypt, otherwise called Egyptians, I think that should be satisfactory proof. This proof is housed in the London Museum that is holding artifacts of Egypt. In that museum you will find a document called the Papyrus of Hunifer. At least you should find it there. It was there when Sir E. A. Wallace Budge used it in his translation as part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Papyrus of Hunifer.

It was there at that time, a copy of which is in the library of Syracuse University in New York, and I quote from the hieratic writing, "We came from the beginning of the Nile where God Hapi dwells, at the foothills of The Mountains of the Moon." "We," meaning the Egyptians, as stated, came from the beginning of the Nile. Where is "the beginning of the Nile?" The farthest point of the beginning of the Nile is in Uganda; this is the White Nile. Another point is in Ethiopia. The Blue Nile and White Nile meet in Khartoum; and the other side of Khartoum is the Omdurman Republic of Sudan. From there it flows from the south down north. And there it meets with the Atbara River in Atbara, Sudan. Then it flows completely through Sudan (Ta-Nehisi, Ta-Zeti or Ta-Seti, as it was called), part of that ancient empire which was one time adjacent to the nation called Meroe or Merowe. From that, into the southern part of what the Romans called "Nubia," and parallel on the Nile, part of which the Greeks called "Egypticus"; the English called it "Egypt" and the Jews in their mythology called it "Mizrain" which the current Arabs called Mizr/Mizrair. Thus it ends in the Sea of Sais, also called the Great Sea, today's Mediterranean Sea. When we say thus, we want to make certain that Hapi is still God of the Nile, shown as a hermaphrodite having the breasts of a woman and the penis of a man. God Hapi is always shown tying two symbols of the "Two Lands," Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, during Dynastic Periods, or from the beginning of the Dynastic Periods. The lotus flower is the symbol of the south, and the papyrus plant, the symbol of the north.

But we need to go back beyond Egypt. I used "Egypt" as a starting point, in that of all the ancient civilizations in the world, Egypt has more ancient documents and other artifacts than any other civilization one could speak of. So when you hear them talking about "Sumer" and "Babylon," and all those other places, theoretically, they can't show you the artifacts. Thus my position is, first hand information is the best proof; and I can show you the bones and other remains of Zinjanthropus Boisei about 1.8 million years ago. But no one can show me the bones and remains of Adam and Eve, et al.

So I have the proof and you have the belief. If you want to see it you can go to the Croydon National Museum in Nairobi, Kenya; there, you'll see the Bones Zinjanthropus Boisei. If you want to see the remains of "Lucy," you can go to the national Museum associated with the University of Addis Ababa. Of course, there are a host of other human fossils that existed thousands of years ago all over Africa; but you can't find one "Adam" or one "Eve" in any part of Asia.
A scene from the Papyrus of Hunefer
Again, this is a matter of pride for him, silly and misplaced pride it is true, but pride nonetheless. However, he has a problem: there is no translation by Budge of the Papyrus of Hunefer that contains the sentence Dr. Ben quotes. There are, however, pieces like the Hymn of Praise to Ra that I quoted. In it, there is mention of mountains, of the god Hapi (who is largely synonymous with the Nile, itself), and of the creation of man.

Most scholars agree that the Egyptians came to the Nile Valley from the South, but that is all there really is to go on. The when, how, and exactly from where will likely remain unanswered. The assumption, however, that the actual source of the Nile is somehow identical to the exact location of man's arrival, or even of the Egyptian people's origin is more myth than theory. Fair enough, Olduvai Gorge is just south of Lake Victoria and just west of Mount Kilimanjaro, but the fossilized hominids discovered there do not make it the birthplace of either man or the Ancient Egyptians as a matter of course.

Even allowing that it is, the jump to the assumption that such was a known fact in Ancient Egypt is beyond huge. And larger still is the jump to the idea that this truth is absolutely contained in a hymn from the Book of the Dead, particularly when no one can produce the actual evidence being cited. We're getting into Bible Code territory here.

Still, it's interesting speculation, provided one can disengage from the racial silliness of it all. And it was a fun journey for me, going from word origins to the origins of all mankind...

Cheers, all.