Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nostalgia and Melancholy

I was struck today (whilst walking the dog) by a severe sense of melancholy. Something about the decreasing elevation of the morning sun, the coolness of the air, the sudden thought that, as the buddleia was now past its best, I would probably not see many more butterflies this year. I am entering a state of mental inertia. There are no crisp new textbooks or timetables for me to consult this year, just a few desultory anticlimactic wrap-up meetings to attend, some dull administrative tasks that ensure my thesis is delivered on time. I remember the profound sense of anticipation, tinged with a whiff of fear, that surrounded my entry into full-time university education three years ago, an excitement that took me right back to the misty, blackberried September mornings of newly-uniformed bepencilled childhood. But all that has passed now. I knew it was a very special golden time granted to me, somewhat belatedly, but intensely welcomed all the same. Looking back, even knowing that I really did squeeze the most out of it that I possibly could, I think I could enjoy it even better now if I were to live those years again.
Will I feel like this as I approach old age and death?
Seize the day. I did, and it still slipped through my fingers. Friends move on, to jobs, distant colleges, new lands. I feel like the Cumaean Sibyl, doomed to immortality by Apollo without eternal youth, watching the world from her cave, knowing that she can never fully participate in it, nor leave it. Time moves on and despite my nostalgically longing backwards gaze, must carry me with it to a new place.
'If idly lost, no art nor care,
The Blessing can restore
And Heav'n extracts a strict account
Of ev'ry mispent hour.'

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dusts off hands...

Alexander McCall Smith writes in 'Love Over Scotland' that producing a PhD is 'like having a baby that one promptly gives away' which made me chuckle. If this is the case then producing an MA is approximately the same, but the pregnancy is of a shorter duration! Having collated all the various sections and printed them off, I was rather disappointed to find out that the postage to the prof. (first- class) was a mere £1.42. Not that my baby was underweight: Oh no! It eventually totalled approximately 38,000 words - almost a third longer than it should have been. Hence the relegation of a portion of the text to complementary appendices. Fingers crossed it will draw admiring coos from Those Who Matter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

O Enkidu, my brother....

Ooh ooh! Akkadian! there's a language to have on your CV if ever there was one! So we'll start after thesis hand-in date....i.e. late September. I've always fancied learning cuneiform, but am a bit doubtful about the literature that this will unlock. I've got a feeling it's more of an 'accounting' language like Linear wassname, so we might eventually be able to unravel a few king-lists or fathom out the contents of the royal granaries rather than translate previously untranslated epic poetry. Wasn't Gilgamesh written in Akkadian? I love that epic, especially when the selfish bull-in-a-chinashop hero mourns Enkidu.....three thousand years old and still has the power to move:
' O Enkidu, my brother,
You were the axe at my side,
My hand's strength, the sword in my belt,
The shield before me,
A glorious robe, my fairest ornament'

'He touched his heart but it did not beat, nor did he lift his eyes again. When Gilgamesh touched his heart it did not beat. So Gilgamesh laid a veil, as one veils a bride, over his friend.'

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Word-limits suck!

The sun being high in the sky, we went off to catch grasshoppers in the short scrubby grass near the university. Having marvelled over their speed and agility we released them and walked home before the sun started to burn us. Still no word from the Prof. I am loathe to start pruning my thesis to get it within the word count until I get the go-ahead from him. But, in truth, I don't want to trim it back at all! It does what it says on the tin 'A textual commentary on the variants contained within the NA27 apparatus criticus': if I hack bits out it won't BE that anymore and I'll feel I've compromised my dissertation to conform to some arbitrary word-limit! None of it is padding: it's solid, logical, point A to point B reasoning. Nothing is superfluous. Everything is covered in a terse scholarly style. So I'm fretting and watching the dealine for hand-in getting closer and closer....

Monday, August 6, 2007

General moaning.

The school holidays are just no good. Trying to amuse bored children on a shoe-string in indifferent weather is exhausting and leaves you feeling limper than a dead lettuce. Add to that mix a grumpy 22-year old who should have moved out LONG ago, a thesis that is just sitting there WAITING for final comments from an absentee supervisor (the clock is REALLY ticking now) and all the crap of hot-flushes/cold sweats/high blood pressure......Well, I've just had it. Fortunately the eldest is at work and the middle has been whisked away for the day by some cousins, so that just leaves the boy to amuse. But where can I fit in some study-time? And what should it be? Editing? Hebrew? And I promised myself I'd brush up on some Italian, but the CDs are about an hour's-worth each and we're going away a week today, so there's a pile of stuff to wash, iron and what's the betting I don't fit into any of my 'holiday clothes'. No doubt the husband will start stressing about flying soon and go into one of his gloomy silent phases. Bollocks. I'm off out.....

Friday, August 3, 2007

Biblical Hebrew

Well, the Biblical Hebrew is coming on quite nicely. Having taken most of the year of to attempt to learn Arabic (with limited success), I decided that Hebrew was probably going to be more immediately beneficial to my future studies (although I will have to look into Aramaic at some point). Plus, having used a number of Hebrew words in my thesis, I was somewhat alarmed to find that the letters were looking less and less familiar every time that I read them. My original textbooks were by Menahem Mansoor and certainly got me off the starting blocks, but on my return to studying the language I purchased 'Learn to Read Biblical Hebrew' by Jeff Benner in conjunction with the Ancient Hebrew Research Center ( It's an excellent book that is taking me right back to basics and teaching me some additional useful stuff along the way. It's a very satisfying feeling when a language becomes more than a collection of foreign-looking signs and words become apparent before you very eyes. It's good to get to grips with ancient texts at an early stage too - it inspires you to continue and become familiar with more and more. I remember the thrill of learning ancient Greek. It reminds me of those 'magic' paint-books you could buy when I was a kid: from a blank page, great wonders are revealed. Coptic is also on the cards.

All over bar the shouting.

Having spent most of the last year sitting in front of my computer, curtains partially drawn to avoid screen glare, I emerge blinking from my book-stacked 'study'. I cannot believe that I have completed the bulk of the writing on my research MA, a textual commentary on the Greek text of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. The draft is sitting on my desk and, aside from polishing up the introduction, abstract and conclusion, it's all over bar the shouting.
Just as well really - the family holiday happens in ten days time and there's no chance that I'll take anything even remotely related to my thesis away with me......or will I? Because I am, I suspect, like many scholars in that I am loathe to let go of something that has occupied my daylight hours for a very long time. My thesis has become my fifth child, the silent reproachful one that sits and waits for me to pick it up. I have become very protective of it and want it to be the best that it can be. So if I read an entire book on a related topic and garner just one quote to add to my magnum opus, it's got to be worth it, hasn't it? Then why not read two? Why stop at many books so little time. Oh get over it, will you? Just pack the Dan Brown.