Monday, February 18, 2013

Is Theban "runic"? and other quandaries   (Originally posted for discussion at Wikipedia's Talk:Theban alphabet)

What if you could see where the secondary sources went wrong? (a meta-discussion)

To avoid confusion and hurt feelings, I should state clearly what my objection is not. The Wikipedia article Theban alphabet is an entirely uncontroversial, well-edited presentation of what all the trusted, published, paid-for secondary sources have been saying for decades on the topic, entirely in accord with Wikipedia's policies.
A frequent problem in "occult" topics is that secondary sources may have echo-chambered each other for decades or even centuries, thus setting a claim in stone as far as Wikipedia is concerned — but its foundation may truly be sand.
Meanwhile, others might be able to cite specific evidence, say "No, look here and here for yourself, with your own eyes" — and settle the matter, among the reasonable. ... Except on Wikipedia, where that's rejected out-of-hand as "original research", so that the old misconception remains enthroned. Let's see if this is a case in point.

Is "the Runes of Honorius" a misnomer, because "Theban is not a runic alphabet"?

From the earliest to the current version of this article, we are told Theban is also the "Runes of Honorius" — but "is not, however, a runic alphabet." Well, that's confusing, isn't it? Is our runes runic or isn't they? (And is our children educated?) May I suggest one short simple path to the light, so you could if you like revise the article accordingly? (I have no wish to edit-war, so I won't edit it at all.)

Follow that little blue link to Runic alphabet and ponder the actual meaning of "runic". It isn't limited to the angular-shaped Norse/Germanic carved letters. And I quote:
The name runes contrasts with Latin or Greek letters. ... The name is from a root run- (Gothic runa), meaning "secret" or "whisper". ... The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite.
Was Theban a secret alphabet? Then it was in this sense a "runic" alphabet.Perhaps you think I'm playing modern word-games with you. No. Go read "Runes and Runic Magic in Old Germanic Religion" by Diego Ferioli at the New Antaios Journal (excerpt):
[W]hen Wulfila (4th c. AD) translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic, he rendered Greek μυστήριον (mystérion) "mystery", συμβούλιον (symboúlion) and βουλή (boulé), meaning "counsel", with Gothic runa.
Thus when Paul tells the Ephesians (3:4) of "the mystery of Christ," in the Gothic text that's "runai Xristaus." (The rune of Christ doesn't mean he was an angular carved Norse or Germanic character, does it? Outside some people's imaginations, that is.) Any more questions whether Theban was likewise "runic" — in the non-angular/carved sense?

"The Theban alphabet bears little resemblance to other alphabets...."

Superficial visual resemblance? Well, not much to the Latin alphabet, anyway. But what does that prove? Latin and Hebrew and Arabic and the old vertical Mongolian/Uighur script don't share superficial visual resemblances (they're written in three different directions, and two of them aren't even technically "alphabets" in their original form), yet in fact they're all related, descended from Phoenician script; sometimes you just have to look closer to discover the links. (And... if we do discover visual resemblances... what will that prove?)

Let's kick that poor dead "runic" equine some more: look at the Theban character w that does triple duty for U/V/W, sort of angular/carved-looking.... Now go look at the rune w (Wunjō) that does triple duty in Norse for U/V/W; oooh, does that mean Theban is at least partly a carved-runic alphabet after all? (Not really: cf. Nabatean waw (Waw), a very old and widespread Semitic character.) But now, d'you want to take another look at the Theban "L" l and the rune l (Laguz), flipping one or the other vertically? Or compare the Theban "F" f and "A" a to the corresponding runes f (Fehu) and a (Ansuz), flipping them horizontally? Or the Theban "E" e and rune a (Ehwaz), no flips at all?

For more kicks, consider the shapes, if not the values, of a few Georgian (Mkhedruli) letters, e.g.:

Is there a similar aesthetic at work? And if there is... so what? Given that the reputed script creators (Mesrop Mashtots of Armenia and Honorius of Thebes, whichever "Thebes" the latter denoted) came from the same religious culture (Eastern Christianity) and part of the world, some kinship would have been about as surprising between their scripts as between the superficially visually different Glagolitic and Cyrillic.

Which "Theban alphabet" are we discussing anyway?

The problem with making this "little resemblance" argument is using the nice big clean "Theban glyph" SVGs shown in the article, which frequently differ even from the original Theban letters shown in the old diagram at its upper right corner. (You can see for yourself the differences between old and new there on the page just by looking; it doesn't depend on anyone believing my assertion or "original research.") This is a modern script devised to help modern readers, by making the glyphs not so terribly alike (e.g. notice the closed top loop on the modern "B", compared to the old y-like character's open top which left A and B almost identical).

That's a perfectly honest and honorable reason to develop a new font; typographers compete all the time to accomplish more legible, useful, and beautiful scripts, and are justly celebrated when they achieve it. However, these are not usually then also presented elsewhere as being the original historical script.

If Wikipedia is showing readers a new version (which has letters made not to resemble each other too much) in order to demonstrate that the older version (not shown so big and clear) "bears little resemblance to other alphabets," isn't that manipulating the evidence?

In fact, given Wikipedia's influence as a reference source, isn't this quiet switcheroo unduly popularizing the modern script in place of the historical script? People can come here, copy the chart, and think they're learning the Olde Ways — not realizing they're learning to handwrite a computer font designed by someone who was dissatisfied with the original glyphs. When the product's not clearly labeled, I think at some level they're being cheated. And that makes this a stereotype of shoddy New Age marketing.

FYI, please note that the old script has not been universally abandoned, e.g.: .

Oh, those "angular" runes weren't always!

Runes were straight-edged and sharp-angled when carved into wood or stone, yes, that was a feature of the medium, along with avoiding horizontal lines to keep from cutting along the grain of the wood and thereby splitting it. But the same letters were also used for writing with ink-and-quill for extensive documents, and there was no such straight-and-angular limitation then: e.g. see the Codex Runicus (ca. 1300), and note that the runes are rounded rather than angled. You surely know that English writing continued to use Thorn (Þ þ) and Eth (Ð ð) long after the Conquest, still visibly curved in their manuscript form, and they can now be found in many standard English publishing computer fonts, as well as in the HTML entities Þ þ Ð ð -- still curved, not straight.

As Theban is an ink-and-quill, manuscript-lettering alphabet, naturally it doesn't look like wood-carved glyphs; but calling it "not runic" for that reason would require calling the runic manuscript Codex Runicus "not runic", which seems just a bit senseless to me.

Baseless claim that unicamerality suggests origin as cipher

The article states: "Theban letters only exist in a single case. This suggests an origin for Theban as a cipher calqued on Latin,...." — This is a non sequitur: the first statement in no way suggests, implies, or supports the second. Earlier above, we saw a few examples of Georgian letters; well, Georgian is unicase; should we likewise deduce that Georgian originated as a cipher calqued on Latin? And Hebrew, and Arabic, and Tamil, and Hangul? Those are unicase too! And the Ge'ez script used to write Ethiopian-regional languages, that's unicase as well... so is it also a cipher calqued on Latin, rather than (as everyone had thought) based on ancient South Arabian consonant-glyphs but attaching vowel-signs to create a syllabary? Well, gee, that might explain yet another odd similarity in letter-shapes to Theban!

Truly amazing how there are no scripts anywhere in the world with glyphs bearing resemblance to the Theban letters... until you actually open your eyes and look for them... right?

And is it clear now that the above-quoted suggestion about unicase scripts originating as ciphers (like other claims in the article) has no basis to be made by Wikipedia to its trusting readers?

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