Feb 2, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: FAMULUS

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

famulus (FAH-myoo-luss) n. attendant to a sorcerer, scholar, or magician; a close personal attendant.

The word famulus has Latin orgins, and was originally used to mean "household slave." A 1053 Latin dictionary by the medeival lexicographer Papias of Lombardy lumped together the words famulus and manceps under the general category of servus ("slave").

I came across the word while perusing the York Cycle, which is a collection of forty-eight mystery plays that illustrate sacred Judeo-Christian traditions from Creation to the Last Judgement. Play 10, which examine's Abraham's sacrifice, contains dialogue between two famuli:

114 Famulus 1. Att youre biddyng we wille be bowne
115 What way in worlde that yoe wille wende.

116 Famulus 2. Why, sall we trusse ought forthe a towne
117 In any vncouthe lande to lende?

118 Famulus 1. I hope tha haue in this sessoune
119 Fro God of heuyn sum solayce sende.

120 Famulus 2. To fulfille yt is goode reasoune,
121 And kyndely kepe that he has kende.

122 Famulus 1. Bott what thei mene certayne
123 Haue I na knowlage clere.

124 Famulus 2. It may noght gretely gayne
125 To move of swilke matere.

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