At the back of my copy of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, I have a list that I made while reading through the book for the first time. It is a list of words and their page numbers, words I do not know, or am only vaguely aware of but could not, if asked for one, offer any kind of a solid denotative meaning. There are upwards of seventy of them composing this list.
Some of these words, like “sacerdotal” and “truculence” are words I have come across before, and have even looked up, and am slowly finding room to accomodate in my brain.
Many, many, many are awaiting time for me to look them up and define them, to apply meaning to them and to apply them to active use in my vocabulary.
And one of them– this is something I have Just Discovered– is Not Defined in my dictionary.
The word is “epagonemal.”
I have looked it up in the bible of English dictionaries, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate, my favorite, the one that lists, among others, my younger sister’s name among its editors. Webster has “epact” and then “eparchy,” with no “epag-” anywhere in between.
I’m not sure what to do about this, although I could, I guess, start with a quick e-mail to my sister.
Meanwhile, here is the sentence in which this word appears: “Besides which, this quota had a certain spiritual beauty and mythical appeal, since it was wisely and deliberately based on the sacred epagomenal number: the five extra days added to the year’s three hundred and sixty.” (Joseph, p. 1227)
Contextually speaking, one might derive several possible definitions for this word. Or one might know Greek (that’s what it appears to be rooted in) and so could figure it out.
But there is No Time for this now. I must move on, consigning this word’s meaning to the Unknown category in my mind, leaving it in the list at the back of the book but knowing that its definition is, for now, inaccessible to me. Yes, I must move on, for today I am Writing.
Funny thought, isn’t it?, to be writing a Master’s thesis on a book that was originally written in German and then (thank you, John E. Woods) translated masterfully into English, a book whose command of Idea and Language is so powerful that it must make use of words that I don’t even know. To be writing a Master’s thesis on a book that I Do Not Fully Understand, and to know that my thesis holds water, that it is strong, and well-supported and, even, New.
I guess it makes me feel as though my grey matter is functioning pretty well. I mean, I’m no idiot, anyway. I guess you couldn’t call me stupid.
I’m not a little relieved.