So, anyway, today I made a gaffe. Like a giraffe. Also, I heard they found some rare White Giraffes in Kenya. But I digress. I made a gaffe like a giraffe. It was like something Mrs. Malaprop would have said in A School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. I said, I besiege you, when I should have said I beseech you. I guess if you were really adamant in your request, like really emphatic about it, like you were going to pillage the village with your begging: ‘Please, sir, it is a matter of life and death.’ Well, that could be a good argument for using “I besiege you.” But other than extreme cases or if you were trying to use a funny malapropism on purpose . . . .
We were studying Deuteronomy 20–that is a place where they use besiege and mean it not just figuratively but literally:
King James Version (KJV)
20 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people,
3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them;
4 For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.
6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.
7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.
8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.
9 And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.
10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13 And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.
15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16 But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:
18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God.
19 When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege:
20 Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.
King James Version (KJV)
Whenever I hear Deuteronomy I can’t help but think of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Like, Duderonomy. They (they being Biblical scholars) also refer to the author of Deuteronomy and other books as the Deuteronomist. That makes me imagine the profound wisdom of The Dude, like he would call himself the Duderonomist and write down all his wisdom and aphorisms:
The Dude: Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
The Stranger: Take it easy, Dude.
The Dude: Oh, yeah!
The Stranger: I know that you will.
The Dude: Yeah, well – the Dude abides.
[Exits with beers in hand]
The Stranger: [to the camera] The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.
Younger Cop: And was there anything of value in the car?
The Dude: Oh, uh, yeah, uh… a tape deck, some Creedence tapes, and there was a, uh… uh, my briefcase.
Younger Cop: [expectant pause] In the briefcase?
The Dude: Uh, uh, papers, um, just papers, uh, you know, uh, my papers, business papers.
Younger Cop: And what do you do, sir?
The Dude: I’m unemployed.
Walter Sobchak: That rug really tied the room together, did it not?
Elsewhere we got into a little discussion about the Samaritans. I won’t belabor the point, but I besiege you, to consider that the Samaritans were actually Hebrews who were not exiled, so that when the other Hebrews returned from their exile by the Assyrians, the ones who remained had intermarried with others and also they held another mountain besides Mount Zion in Jerusalem to be sacred. The Samaritans maintained that Mount Gerizim was the sacred mountain.
Then I went to my other class, also Religious Studies. In this one the professor sent me the following email:
We have a great group of young people, and it shows by the way they speak up. Your views were rich and informed. But let’s be careful not to talk above their heads and leave them out of the conversation. You are “a giraffe cropping high leafage among a herd of antelopes” (James Joyce).
Wow, I love that quote. I looked for it and found that it was from a book called Stephen Hero. Stephen Hero is a posthumously-published unfinished thinly veiled autobiographical novel by Irish author James Joyce. Here is an excerpt with the pertinent quote in bold:
— So we must distinguish between elliptical and ellipsoidal. Perhaps some of you gentlemen may be familiar with the works of Mr W. S. Gilbert. In one of his songs he speaks of the billiard sharp who is condemned to play:
On a cloth untrue
With a twisted cue
And elliptical billiard balls.
— He means a ball having the form of the ellipsoid of the principal axes of which I spoke a moment ago.—
Moynihan leaned down towards Stephen’s ear and murmured: — What price ellipsoidal balls! Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry! —
His fellow student’s rude humour ran like a gust through the cloister of Stephen’s mind, shaking into gay life limp priestly vestments that hung upon the walls, setting them to sway and caper in a sabbath of misrule. The forms of the community emerged from the gust blown vestments, the dean of studies, the portly florid bursar with his cap of grey hair, the president, the little priest with feathery hair who wrote devout verses, the squat peasant form of the professor of economics, the tall form of the young professor of mental science discussing on the landing a case of conscience with his class like a giraffe cropping high leafage among a herd of antelopes, the grave troubled prefect of the sodality, the plump round headed professor of Italian with his rogue’s eyes. They came ambling and stumbling, tumbling and capering, kilting their gowns for leap frog, holding one another back, shaken with deep false laughter, smacking one another behind and laughing at their rude malice, calling to one another by familiar nicknames, protesting with sudden dignity at some rough usage, whispering two and two behind their hands.
The professor had gone to the glass cases on the sidewall, from a shelf of which he took down a set of coils, blew away the dust from many points and, bearing it carefully to the table, held a finger on it while he proceeded with his lecture. He explained that the wires in modern coils were of a compound called platinoid lately discovered by F. W. Martino.
He spoke clearly the initials and surname of the discoverer. Moynihan whispered from behind:
— Good old Fresh Water Martin! —
The thing about the giraffe is funny though, because this professor is very tall and thin. Actually, both professors are tall and thin, very much like giraffes, but this one in particular is the tallest and thinnest. Both also have last names that are also female first names. But I digress.
And whenever I digress, I think of the Egress. “This way to the Egress,” the signs in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum read. The museum was very popular, and many of the patrons would spend all day there. The museum would fill up, and he wouldn’t be able to get any more people in. But they would see the signs, and wonder what strange creature this Egress was, and finally they came to a door marked “Egress.” Was it perhaps part Eagle, part Lioness? They had to see this fabulous creature for themselves. So, they would rush through the door in their haste–and the door would lock behind them. They hadn’t realized that “Egress” was just a fancy way of saying “Exit,” and they would have to buy another ticket if they wanted to get back in the museum.