Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

today's nits, picked

In my own personal “little things that annoy me more than they should” file, most entries concern the European past — especially the European Christian past. I’ve added two entries today. First, I’ve been enjoying James Gleick’s concise biography of Isaac Newton, but I scratched my head at this sentence:

The very existence of the Bible in English — long opposed by the church establishment and finally authorized only a generation before Newton’s birth — had inspired the Puritan cause.

Gleick seems to be under the impression that “the church establishment” opposed “the very existence of the Bible in English” until the Authorized Version of 1611. That is, he assumes that if the Bible was “authorized” then it must have been “uauthorized” — i.e., prohibited — before then. Which is, um, wrong. (Also, I wonder if he’s aware of the difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.)

And then this, from Dwight Garner’s review of Margaret Visser’s The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude, which Garner repeatedly calls “scholarly”:

In Dante’s “Inferno,” she observes, “at the bottommost circle of hell, the ungrateful are punished by being eternally frozen in the postures of deference they had failed to perform during their lifetimes: trapped rigid in enveloping ice, they stand erect or upside down, lie prone, or bow face to feet.”

In fact, they are scattered in random postures, some immersed wholly in ice and some only partially — one is eternally gnawing the head of another — and they are not “the ungrateful” but rather the treacherous. There is quite a difference between failing to feel or show gratitude and actively betraying a benefactor.

Just for the record.


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