Log in

No account? Create an account
c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Dear Ether...
prester john
sovay, I'm mainly asking you, but any other classicists are welcome to chime in.

I'm looking to reverse-engineer these animal-names from the Letter of Prester John. So far as I can tell, the Letter is the only surviving usage of these guys, and so no one seems to have any idea what they are. I could be wrong--I have not made it down to the big library yet. So--what do you think the latin parts would be? What would you suspect would be the etymology of the following words, knowing they are the names of fantastic animal species (they come in a long list of animals, most of which do not occur in the real world), how would you parse them, what do you think they might mean?


  • 1
Collina means "hills," so it's "meta of the hills"? Still pretty weird. :)

Yeah, I got nothin'. Even where the word-parts have clear meanings it's really rubbish when you piece it together.

Cryptozoology! Yay! My favourite crackpot hobby!

Apparently someone else was curious as well. If you make it do the library, perhaps some of these books might be helpful? Or if not these, then at perhaps this one.

Alternatively, if you can track down a copy of Hume's "Natural History: Lore and Legend", published 1895, this listing seems to indicate that it at least mentions your mystery beasts -- though whether all it does is quote the pertinent passage from PJ's letter, I do not know.

When I get home, I'll check some of my cryptozoo texts and see if I can dig anything else up.

And it looks like, "tinserete" is an alternative spelling or translation of "tensevete".

And a "serete" is a Central American field rodent, similar to the guinea pig, that farmers hate (if memories of my high school cross-border Christian Service jaunts hold true).

If one gets really creative, one could take tin as tinus and serete as the 2nd person plural imperative of se-reor, and sort of get "Think, Snowballs!"

Which just cracks me up.

Tinserete, the Robot Rodent!

That passage in the ebay text is a direct quote from the letter, the passage where everyone gets these names. ;)

Yeah, I saw that. I thought maybe there was a chance that there might be other mention of them somewhere in the rest of that book.

Heck, even if there isn't, only the poor condition of the pages is keeping me from bidding on it. Antique book dealing with mystery animals? Sign me up!

The Hulme book (as well as other cryptozoology texts) is downloadable as a PDF here. It seems only to mention the beasties by way of quoting the letter, but having an e-text can't be bad anyway.

Speaking of, did you ever find an unabridged copy of the Letter? And if so, is it the convenient electronic kinda that you can forward along to curious friends who bear Eastern European nicknames but are, in fact, descended primarily of British stock?

Heh. I have not located it yet but when I do, for the betterment of humanity, even those who bear eastern european nicknames, I will upload it to my website for all to see.

Cametennus looks at least partially like Latinized Greek; I thought at first of the καμηλοπάρδαλις, but that's a straight portmanteau, so I'm more inclined to think -metennus is a unit itself, maybe with several prefixes. If anything, I'd assume it's related to τείνω.

Meta-Collinarum also looks like a mishmash: as if someone appended the proper genitive plural of collīnus to μετά in its sense of "among." I think you would be safe claiming this creature lived up in the hills, but past that, I got nothing.

Tensevetes: does not stretch out (tendō + vetō) . . . Seriously, no clue. At this point, you might as well imitate Isidore of Seville and make up anything the dictionary will support.

Hm. Thanks for the Greek angle, I hadn't thought of that. You rock.

For tensevetes you could work out an (admittedly Isidoran) etymology from Greek τενθ- and ἡβητής and come up with something like "devourers of the young."

Rock the fuck out--thank you!!

from Greek τενθ- and ἡβητής and come up with something like "devourers of the young."

I say it's as plausible as anything else from the twelfth century: I'm for it!

Here's a list of genus; cametennus reminded me of several things from taxonomy.

Cametennus reminds me of camel, and tennus/derivatives of that, along with collina, as seen in Meta-collinarum, appear, too.

Perhaps all of them are compilations of various names from the taxonomical labeling system?

I'm definitely not a classicist, but it seemed feasible.

for us girls, about us girls.

Okay, I am going to have a moment of utter bad literosexual silliness.

Collin-- Gaelic for 'girl', like Kore, if I recall correctly. Apply a little bad latin for the '-arum', and it's something like 'for us maidens', or 'to us maidens'... so add meta, and one might have something like, "For we self-referencing maidens," Or perhaps some cloister of female narcissi, or the like.

a little further down ['Prester John's'] letter there is a metion of merule/s - does anybody know what these are either?

As far as I understand they're crows.

Merules are just blackbirds (Turdus merula). The reference to white merules may be albino blackbirds, or may be actual species of domesticated blackbirds (or something that resembles a blackbird to European eyes) that have bred white in the same way as ducks, chickens and geese.

  • 1