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frozen words


…in a certain city words congealed with the cold the moment they were spoken and later as they thawed out people heard in the summer what they had said to one another in the winter…"

Kahn quoting Plutarch quoting Antiphanes.

Out at sea with little sight a strange assortment of sounds are heard… the skipper intervenes to put an end to speculation. Their location skirts the Frozen Sea the site of a bloody battle during the winter between the Arimaspians and the Nephelibates. Such battle sounds would include the “words and cries of men and women the hacking slashing and hewing of battle-axes the shocking knocking and jolting of armours and harnesses the neighing of horses and all other martial din and noise”. It was so cold that the sounds froze and fell to the ground and never reached the ears of the combatants perhaps the whole battle was silent. Even though sounds in general might lack the humidity of breath it was as they took the form of speech and speech became but a vaporizer of thought. Now that it was springtime all these sounds long inaudible were being released and created a racket although not in their original temporal sequences of action.

Pantagruel found irrefutable evidence stewn over the ground of the island. These still-frozen sounds seemed “like your rough sugar plums of many colours like those used in heraldry.” Friar John held what he thought was a big word in his hands. As it melted like snow it gave off the sound of an uncut chestnut exploding in a fire this was interpreted as “the report of a field piece.” Handfuls of the multicolored plums some not pleasant to the eye were thrown onto the deck of the ship:

“When they had been all melted together we heard a strange noise hin hin hin hin his tick tock trasck brededin brededack frr frr frr bou bou bou bou bou bou bou bou track track trr trr trr trrr trrrrrr on on on on on on ououououon gog magog and I do not know what other barbarous words whick the pilot said were the noises made by the charging squadrons the shock and neighing og horses.”

Kahn (ibid) p. 205 quoting Rabelais’s Gargantua and pantagruel (1532).


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