Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Idea Emporium #1: A Few Notes on the Necronomicon

As promised, with the closing of The Culture Column has come the opening of a new column. The Idea Emporium is a grab bag of ideas. This month and the next I’ll supply some goodies on the Necronomicon. Other months might include new cultures, alien species, peculiar philosophies, or anything beyond or in-between.

As always, these are free for grabs and totally in the public domain from this point on. Use as you please, how you please.

A Brief History of the Necronomicon

"...pretiosissimum donum ab dis, id quod est esse, sed est novissime malum." Garamond Edition

“[it is] the most precious gift by the gods, that which is to be, but it is the last of all evil things.” Warren Rice Translation.

As Lovecraft tells us, the Necronomicon was written in Arabic by the “Mad Arab,” Abdul Alhazred, and translated into the Greek by “Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople.” It was in this form that the text was called the Necronomicon and from it, not Alhazred’s text, that major versions have been derived. The only printed edition of this translation was the Gotico-Antiqua Edition, “printed in Italy between 1500 and 1550.” The last known copy was held by Richard Pickman, but his ownership of it was not known until after his death and the sale of his estate. Prior to this the copy had been lost in Seventeenth Century Salem, and it is not known who owns it presently or if it still exists.

Olaus Wormius’ Latin translation is nevertheless more commonly used. With a number of handwritten editions over the years printed texts were finally published on two occasions: Once in Germany and once again, most likely in Spain (but it is a little harder to determine). These are referred to by their typeface: the Black-letter Edition of Fifteenth Century Germany, and the Garamond Edition of Seventeenth Century Spain. Minor textual differences exist between the two. With no “Wormius Original” to reference, or even one of the handwritten copies that the printed editions must have used, it is generally impossible to tell for sure which of two passages is most correct.

The Garamond Edition was the reference text used by the John Dee Translation of the Sixteenth Century, of which only fragments remain. It was not until the early 1900s when the Necronomicon had a full English translation, performed by Warren Rice. This translation remains the only full translation to this day, though work is currently being performed by Dr. Shawn Daniels to produce a translation of selected fragments.

Though the so-called “Mythos Concept” is held in ill repute by most of the scholarly world outside of the Miskatonic, it enjoys a certain amount of popularity and respect in Japan. It was introduced to Japan via the historian Kan’ichi Asakawa, who learned of the Miskatonic and its views during his time as a student at Yale. He brought it back to Japan during his 1917-19 return and began a stronger, though mostly secretive, study of it after becoming a professor at Yale in 1937. It is on this that the majority of Japanese scholarship rests. It is perhaps the crowning achievement of the field there that a Japanese translation was made, derived from the Black-letter Edition. Completed in 1995 by Aida Yuji, it was first begun a few years after his 1979 retirement from Kobe University and holds copious footnotes.

Numerous Japanese universities have something to say about the Mythos Concept but it is the University of Tsukuba that is, one might say, the Miskatonic of Japan.

Nevertheless, the “American Model” and “Japanese Model” disagree with each other on numerous points, sometimes quite vehemently, and at times they are more antagonistic toward each other than other scholars are to the both of them. One extremely unfortunate effect of this has been the blacklisting of the Aida Yuji Translation, which is certainly a more thorough resource than Warren Rice’s for those scholars that are versed in Japanese. The Shawn Daniels Translation may go some way to bridging the gap but at this time is slated to be only a partial translation.

Of the copies known today: A Black-letter Edition is held by the University of Tsukuba, having been lent by the British Museum.

Garamond Editions are held by the National Library of France, Harvard’s Widener Library, the Miskatonic, and the University of Buenos Aires.

Selected Etymologies

While many magicians and madmen through history have spoken of the being or thing or existence called Yog-Sothoth, the name as we have it today first began to develop among the Hebrews, as the name Yod-Thoth, formed with the letters Yod, Tav, Waw, Heth, and Tav (again). Or, written in Hebrew: יתחות

The second component of the name, Thoth, is pure Egyptian, as the Hebrews believed that Yog-Sothoth was a type of or identified (by the Egyptians) with Thoth, and their earliest texts discussed it purely in this context. The reason for adding the Hebrew letter yod is unclear. According to some sources it was added to denote the unnameability of the being which it represented. That is to say, like Hastur, it was charged with duties from which it was not to be removed and was therefore not to be summoned (or “named”).

According to others, however, the importance lay in how, as a prefix, the yod can indicate that the subject is being spoken of in the future sense. Under this theory, Yog-Sothoth is to be understood as something that is not present (except perhaps where it is called) but is as-yet only potentially existent and the realization of this potential is to be anticipated.

Some suppose that "So" is "Set" and the deity Yog-Sothoth was once "Set-Thoth." It is hardly the only explanation, however— some suppose it to be a shortening of “Sobek,” for example— and a few even maintain that it is a scribe's error altogether.

In Wormius’ translation of the Necronomicon, Yog-Sothoth’s name was rendered in Greek as: όγ-Σοθόθ

Nyarlathotep is believed by most scholars to be a combination of Arabic and Egyptian, a devolved portmanteau of the Arabic niyyah/niyyat and the Egyptian hotep. Within this school of thought opinions vary as to whether it was originally Niyyat-hotep or there is a third component between the two, which then developed into “lat” as we know it today. Niyyah means “intention,” specifically the desire that one has in the heart when wishing to do something for God’s sake. This may be a reference to the tradition which holds that Nyarlathotep is the active will of sleeping Azathoth, a sort of tulpa that the blind idiot god has created.

Some others suppose, based on certain records, that the name is derived from Re-pathotep, either a title of Ra or indicative of a fusion between Ra and another, now unknown, deity. Pt meaning “prince” and hotep meaning “to be satisfied, at peace,” or “an altar; an offering, sacrifice,” the name might be translated as “Ra, who is the prince that is satisfied.” Others prefer to translate it more loosely as “Ra (God), Prince of Peace.” Alternate translations, paying more attention to the second set of definitions, may see Nyarlathotep as a sacrifice of some sort or as the means by which sacrifices are made.

It has been pointed out by these scholars (though most others consider it only an interesting curiosity) that the Hebrew letter yod is derived from one of the same hieroglyphs as is a component in the name Ra.

A third theory is that the three components of Nyarlathotep’s name are all purest Egyptian: n(y).(rd?).htp. One of the principal issues at hand is the matter of the glyph rd. In Egyptian both the t and the d represented “voiceless dentals or alveolar stops.” However, they were nevertheless figured separately from one another on occasion. Was this one of those times where it really mattered not at all whether the glyph was pronounce rd or rt, and we could just as likely have come to know the god by the name Nyarladhotep?

If so, our components translate to “of,” “foot,” and either “to be satisfied, at peace” or “an altar; an offering, sacrifice.”

The fourth and final major theory supposes, like the third, that Nyarlathotep’s name is pure Egyptian, but believes there to be two components, making nrw.htp. The first word meaning “terror,” as in the sentence wr nrw.f, “the terror of him is great.” Together these may (taken loosely) make something that is like “the sacrifice/altar that inspires terror.”

Next month: A selection of lines from the Shawn Daniels Translation, with commentary and also the accompanying passages in Latin from the Garamond Edition. Good for flavor, if you ever wanted an authentic Latin rendering of some passages from the Necronomicon. 

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