Embarrassment

“So what is the Latin word for embarrassment?” asked one sixth former.

“And is it in short supply in America?” asked another, sharp of tongue, who I knew had been watching some of the rituals of the presidential election.

Declining to answer the second question, I considered the first one and was baffled.

The OED can be a useful port of call on these occasions, so we looked at it:

‘Intense emotional or social discomfort caused by an awkward situation or by an awareness that one’s own or another’s words or actions are inappropriate or compromising, or that they reveal inadequacy or foolishness; awkwardness, self-consciousness. (Now the usual sense.)

Frequently associated with particular bodily reactions, and expressed in terms of e.g. blushing, squirming, or wincing with embarrassment.

Typically distinguished from shame in being caused by something that is socially awkward or inappropriate rather than morally wrong or debasing.’

 

The OED finds it difficult to pin down the early history of the word embarrass: it is apparently from Middle French, used first in the Spanish Netherlands and derived from a Spanish verb embarazar, which meant to restrain an animal using a cord or a leash.

But to find a corresponding word in either Latin or Greek seems difficult. Its seems that pudor and αἰδώς suggest the ability to feel embarrassment, but neither seems to distinguish between a moral and a social feeling.

“So if there was no word for a feeling, does that mean that they didn’t feel it?” pursued the second student (she was intending to apply for an anthropology course.)

The answer to that is perhaps no. But there is the suspicion that some of the French think that embarrassment is ‘in short supply’ in England also, and to switch on the television at random might support that view.

 

Pax

Irene, the Greek goddess Peace, had provenance, according to Hesiod*: she was the daughter of Zeus and Themis, and among her sisters were Eunomia and Dike.

Pax, however, was simply a Latin word denoting a contract or an agreement.  Then it was used to mean an alliance, and later came to bear the generic meaning of peace as opposed to war.

The idea of Pax as a goddess did not really begin until the Ara Pacis was dedicated on the Campus Martius on 30th January 9BC, in celebration of the peace that Augustus had brought to the empire: something that he himself refers to in the Res Gestae, and mentioned in Milton’s Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.

Far off beside the Black Sea, Ovid paid his own tribute to the deification of Pax, and to the house of the Julii, when his Fasti arrived at the 30th January:

Ipsum nos carmen deduxit Pacis ad aram:
haec erit a mensis fine secunda dies.
frondibus Actiacis comptos redimita capillos,
Pax, ades et toto mitis in orbe mane.
dum desint hostes, desit quoque causa triumphi:
tu ducibus bello gloria maior eris.
sola gerat miles, quibus arma coerceat, arma,
canteturque fera nil nisi pompa tuba.
horreat Aeneadas et primus et ultimus orbis:
siqua parum Romam terra timebat, amet.
tura, sacerdotes, Pacalibus addite flammis,
albaque perfusa victima fronte cadat;
utque domus, quae praestat eam, cum pace perennet
ad pia propensos vota rogate deos.     Fasti, I.709 ff

Our song of itself has brought us to the altar of Peace:
this will be the day before last of the month.
With your tresses arranged and tied with leaves from Actium,
be present, Peace, and stay in the whole world with your gentleness.
So long as there are no enemies, let there be no reason for a triumph:
you will be a greater glory to our generals than war.
Let the soldier bear weapons only to subdue weaponry,
and let nothing but celebration be sounded by the fierce trumpet.
Let the world both nearest and farthest tremble at the sons of Aeneas:
if any land did not fear Rome enough, let it love her.
Priests, throw your incense on the fires of Peace,
and let the white victim fall with brow perfused;
and, that the house who protects Peace may last forever with her,
make rogation to the gods who favour dutiful prayers.

Etymology:

  • pango, pangere, pegi (or pepigi), pactum
  • πήγνυμῐ, πήξω, ἔπηξα, πέπηχα, πέπηγμαι, ἔπαγην
  • These two words have the primary meaning of fixing or fastening, as does the English word peg.

*Theogony, line 902.