A joke in Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ Alaudae. Probably not worth a blog (though what is these days?), but it’s a good one, I think: donnish and thus my favourite kind.
In Issue 22 of Alaudae (from January 1892) Ulrichs has got hold of an American publication called The University Magazine, a rather waspy exercise focussed on the elite US institutions of higher education. He spends a bit of time in this and subsequent issues sharing, in Latin of course, a description of the physical monuments of the College of New Jersey, Collegium Neo-Caesariense in Latin, shortly to be renamed Princeton University in 1896, but he also refers to some of the other articles in the issue.
One he mentions is an odd little narrative, “Ione: A Tale of Old Mycenae”. It’s hard to summarise, but the story basically comes down to Aristocles, the husband of the divinely beautiful Ione, being tempted by the gods, Aphrodite in particular, by way of a test of his professed devotion to his wife. It features some exceptionally affected dialogue, for instance:
“‘My Aristocles, thou doth distrust me. Dost thou wonder that for thee my beauty is divine? Love is blind only because, forsooth, it doth o’erlook all blemishes in its ideal! Whatso’er doth move a man is divine for him. Dost thou forget that Love is very godfulness?’ ‘I mistrust thee not,’ he answered,” etc. etc.
I’m delighted to report that the author of “Ione”, James E. Homans, seems to have made his living after graduating from Harvard writing the last word in practical guides to everyday stuff: ABC of the Telephone: A Practical and Useful Treatise for Students and Workers in Telephony (1901); Self-propelled Vehicles : A Practical Treatise on the Theory, Construction, Operation, Care and Management of All Forms of Automobiles (1902); New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information: A Practical and Educational Compendium Suited to the Needs of Everyday Life (1905); and Homans’ First Principles of Electricity (1916).
But Ulrichs has his own way of puncturing this overheated prose. By manipulating Ione’s name into the genitive case, and retaining its Greek inflection in his Latin text, and by doing the standard thing back then of writing a consonantal i as a j, well, it becomes narratio ficta, sumta ex antiquis Mycenis, sub titulo puellae Jones, “A tale of old Mycenae with the title, the Jones girl.”