Word Watch: Paleography


Yep, it sounds like dinosaurs or a diet fad but it’s my new word this week: Paleography.

n. The study and scholarly interpretation of earlier, especially ancient, writing and forms of writing. (Thanks, Wordnik!)

I first encountered it here:

“Extensively and meticulously reworked, the texts were extremely difficult to decipher, but the happy result is that Kafka – almost against his own will – soon became universally recognised as one of the masters of literary modernism. Brod’s editorial decisions have been much disputed, but the fundamental problem is rooted in something deeper than paleography”

Rupert Christiansen, Kafka’s Last Trial: the strange story of the battle for his manuscripts

Difficult to decipher texts are a forté of mine. My literary estate will surely be a labyrinthine adventure for whoever gets to execute it (a phrase that demands to be followed by “Après nous, le deluge!”). That’s saying nothing of the hordes of academics sure to flock to my literary laying place to pick my bones or at least pick a bone with some error, omission, or otherwise inscrutable reference (like so many thorns on the primrose path). My handwriting will probably prove the real issue.

I direct my future paleographologists to my musings on notebooks and the keeping of them here, which will hopefully provide some kind of skeleton key. The Waste Books of Lichtenberg, Joan Didion’s perennial On Keeping a Notebook, Lost Lines and Posterity). To help organize my thoughts in the future, I might eventually venture into bullet journaling, but that sounds like something William S. Burroughs did in his off hours.

Saint Drogo, Patron Saint of Coffee Houses. And Sheep.

Saint Drogo

Like many of my godless generation, I know more about Marvel superheroes than I do about saints. Still, I was surprised that I had never heard of Saint Drogo — the patron saint of coffee houses — until falling into a fateful Wikipedia wormhole. Cafes and coffee houses, after all, are the proverbial third place where my ilk of creative crusader congregates. Where has Drogo been and why isn’t there a Drogo blend at Starbucks?

I’ll hazard a guess: Besides being the patron saint of coffee houses (which is odd since coffee didn’t arrive in his native France until the 16th century — 500 years after his death), Drogo is also the patron saint of sheep. This makes sense since he was a shepherd. He also lived in a cell appended to a church wall so the villagers wouldn’t have to look at him after a disease disfigured him whilst pilgrimaging across Europe. With sheep. You know what kind of medieval disease can disfigure you? Syphilis. You know where this is going?

Since living a life of “heroic virtue” is a requirement of sainthood, I’d venture that the Church overlooked this in light of his alleged miracle — an ability to bilocate — meaning, he could be in two places at the same time. Witnesses claimed to see him in church when other witnesses simultaneously saw him with his sheep.

This is a superpower more Marvel than Catholic, IMHO, or at least some order of quantum chicanery on par with superposition. But there’s more to ponder for the bilocation-curious per a back issue of Discover Magazine:

“About 80 years ago, scientists discovered that it is possible to be in two locations at the same time—at least for an atom or a subatomic particle, such as an electron. For such tiny objects, the world is governed by a madhouse set of physical laws known as quantum mechanics. At that size range, every bit of matter and energy exists in a state of blurry flux, allowing it to occupy not just two locations but an infinite number of them simultaneously.”

Tim Folger, Discover Magazine

So there. Maybe Drogo existed in a state of blurry flux (a.ka. over-caffienated, hence the coffee angle?) Somehow, he’s not the patron saint of physics but he is recognized as the Pythonesque saint of the “those whom others find repulsive.” And that’s not too baaaaad.