shark_hat (shark_hat) wrote,

Of course John Donne assumed his readers had Greek

One of those two-worlds-collide things happened yesterday, as I was rereading Elizabeth Barber's book Women's Work (about the history of textiles). Did you know that there's a garment still in use in bits of Europe that has clear antecedents back to the Bronze Age and possibly the Neolithic (see Venus statues)? It's a string skirt/fringed apron/girdle with fringed ends, which has something to do with fertility, being either worn by marriageable women, or young matrons; the Greek version, the girdle, was being used as a charm in childbirth into the mid-twentieth century.
Anyway. The fringed apron from Macedonia and parts surrounding is called a zostra; whereas the Greek girdle- what Aphrodite would put on when she wanted to be completely irresistible- is called a zone (the English sense of the word descends crookwise from this.) So, in Donne's To His Mistress Going To Bed, [1] "Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glittering/ But a far fairer world encompassing" it doesn't mean "your girdle, which glitters like a bit of heaven" but "which glitters as much as a goddess's one." Nifty, eh?

[1] You know, the one with the sexy colonialising metaphor?
"License my roving hands, and let them go,
Behind, before, above, between, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man man'd,
My mine of precious stones: my emperie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!"

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Tags: books, cool stuff, i am so interesting, things everyone already knows
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