Sunday, December 27, 2020

Year of the Tragelaph

Some reportedly dream in black and white, others in color. Among verbal dreamers such as myself, there are those who dream in ordinary language — and those whose preferred idiom is the convoluted multilingual pun.

I woke up this morning with the word tragelaph in my mind, at the center of a half-remembered dream-web of associations. Tragelaph means “goat-stag,” which resembles Gottestag, which means “day of God,” i.e. judgment day. Going the other way, tragelaph suggests tragi-laugh, tragicomedy, something simultaneously funny and sad. Scripture assures us that the day of the Lord will be, like a perfect pun, both “great and terrible.”

(I always though it odd that Plato and Aristotle should have used the tragelaph as their example of an impossible zoological mashup. Goats and stags are, after all, very similar -- so similar that the word buck and its cognates have been applied to both indiscriminately.)

How surreal!

The second morpheme in tragelaph means "deer" but looks as if it ought to have something to do with an elephant, and so pachydermic portmanteaux were part of the web as well: the Neufchatelephant of Gustave Verbeek, the hierophant of A. E. Waite (in chess, elephants became bishops; in Tarot, a bishop became a hierophant), the gorilephants feared by Esmeralda in Tarzan of the Apes.

(Speaking of Tarzan, isn't the very name Edgar Rice Burroughs a prophecy of our time? Edgar is linked, via Poe's "The Raven," to corvids and the birdemic. Rice is a metonym for China. Burros are donkeys, symbol of the Democratic Party. The trifecta!)

A hour or so after waking up, when I was out on the road, I remembered that there was some other fantastic creature whose name began with trag-, and that it had something to do with the Harpies in the role as "hounds of Zeus." After several minutes on the tip of my tongue, it came back to me: tragopan -- an extremely obscure heraldic creature in the form of a bird with horns. As a child, I had connected the heraldic tragopan with the picture of the Harpies in Edith Hamilton's Mythology -- which represents them as birds of prey with long snake-like tails. In my mind, a tragopan had been an eagle with horns and a serpent's tail.

Just after remembering that, I happened to see this while waiting at a red light.

What is this logo but a stylized bird with horns and a long tail?

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