An amusing foray into philology

Just for fun I thought I’d discuss an amateur foray into the wooly world of groping in the dark for a plausible translation of a – maybe – Latin word in a rabbinic text. A friend of mine is doing some research – on what I have no idea – and asked me if I had any idea what the following word from the Yalkut Shimoni Tehillin 80 (#830) means:

יכרסמנה חזיר מיער” זה רומולוס, “וזיז שדי ירענה” זה האיסקראטורין

So of course the answer is no, I have no idea. Here’s the verse:

יד  יְכַרְסְמֶנָּה חֲזִיר מִיָּעַר;    וְזִיז שָׂדַי יִרְעֶנָּה. 14 The boar out of the wood doth ravage it, that which moveth in the field feedeth on it.

So the first part is easy, it mentions Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. Plus, in rabbinic symbolism the boar means Rome.

My immediate, definitely mistaken idea, was that the second part referred to Greece, and the reason why is because איסקראטורין, uh, sounds Greek. So I thought really hard about it and concluded that it was a metathesis/corruption of the word aristokratia, and refers to the Greek government.

My interlocutor quickly pointed out that plainly Rome is meant in both parts, and I rethought again and agreed. So my next try was to look at old texts of the Yalkut to make sure our איסקראטורין was at least spelled right. Well, not texts. One text. I looked at the Livorno 1650 edition (link) and noticed that in this text the word “Romulus” is changed to “melekh“/king and reads “האוסטרולוטון.” Although I have not yet pursued this lead – forgive me, sometimes I would like to post mid-thought – it definitely indicated to me that we cannot consider איסקראטורין to be a perfect text. Could be a transcription error or corruption. In any event, I looked at a late 19th century edition of the Yalkut which has a glossary and source list on the bottom of the pages, and the editor gave סופרים as the translation.

After an embarrassing few minutes leafing through Masseches Sofrim (including the 1799 Hamburg Latin edition) I realized that he meant to define איסקראטורין, not cite a rabbinic source for it. So thinking Romish I decided that perhaps איסקראטורין is the Latin word scriptor, which means scribe, writer or author. To get at this, we of course disregard the rabbinic plural suffix ין- and also the prefix א, which is common enough in Hebrew, which does not deal well with initial consonant clusters (cf, Achashverosh, aspaklaria, etc.). Left with סקראטור, and armed with the opinion of the Yalkut editor I mentioned, I deemed it close enough to scriptor and hoped no one would know the difference. Finally, I admit that I have no idea how the second part of the verse is supposed to mean Roman scribes or sofrim or scriptor.