Saturday, July 16, 2011

Amethyst / amatist, O'Keeffe's kitchen

1. In comments a few posts ago, Calista mentioned the OED etymology of amethyst:
Old French ametiste, amatiste, < Latin amethyst-us, < Greek ἀμέθυστ -ος, prop. adj. ‘not drunken’ ( < priv. + *μέθυστος, verbal adjective < μεθύσκ-ειν to intoxicate, < μέθυ wine: see mead n.1), applied subst. to this stone (as also to a herb), from a notion that it was a preventive of intoxication.
It isn't clear to me how stones prevent intoxication, but never mind that. The French "amatist" form is dying to be misunderstood as "love-stone," which is more or less the exact opposite of the original etymology; the Philip Sidney quotation in the OED is a great example:

The bloudy shaftes of Cupids warre,
With amatists they headed are.
(I do not know how conscious the etymological joke is here, of course.)

2. Via Sarah Duff, Georgia O'Keeffe's eating habits:
[author of book on said habits] plays Mr Collins to O'Keeffe's Lady Catherine de Bourgh. While you and I might think O'Keeffe's "soup mix", a blend of powdered milk, soy flour, kelp and brewer's yeast, sounds vile, Wood will concede only that it has a "strong taste". Garlic sandwiches? Delicious. Yarrow tea? Spicy and soothing. A soup made from native weeds? Full of vitamins. (If this soup, when served, did not taste right, Miss O'Keeffe would announce that it had not been "made with love").

See Wikipedia for more on "amethyst." The context of the Sidney quotation is also worth quoting; it appears in a very "conventionally" beautiful bit of descriptive verse, the "amatists" are purple because they are fingernails:

Ah woe is me, my woes renewe; 
Now course doth leade me to her hand. 
Of my first love the fatall band. 
Where whitenes dooth for ever sitte : 
Nature her selfe enameld it. 
For there with strange compaSi dooth lie 
Warme snow, moyst pearle, softe ivorie. 
There fall those Saphir-coloured brookes
Which conduit-like with curious crookes 
Sweete Ilands make in that sweete land.
As for the fingers of the hand
The bloudy shaftes of Cupids warre
With amatists they headed are. 


Jenny Davidson said...

Surely Sidney was well aware of the joke! NB on basis of having read many faux-medieval fantasy novels I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that the mechanism for preventing intoxication is to drop the stone into the flagon of mead with which one's enemies are trying to get one drunk...

Zed said...

That's an excellent theory! But Wikipedia (which I don't know why I didn't refer to) suggests the much more boring explanation that the ancients just _wore_ amethysts and decorated flagons with the stuff...

I suppose you're right and Sidney is likelier than not to have known the relevant myth, but this kind of etymological pun is not something I associate with his writing. (In context he is rattling off a series of gemstone metaphors; the "amatist" -- rather delightfully -- is meant to be the color of a fingernail.)