Saturday, August 8, 2009

Latin roots of The Relic by Eca de Queiroz

Welcome back fans of Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words, and great talks about life-changing books, with a focus on great literature! In this series that I'm offering, I am expounding upon books that have made an impression upon myself and many other readers, and the Latin root words inherent in their English titles. Last week I took a look at the word origins of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. This week I shall expound upon Eca's The Relic, a hugely entertaining work by an author who deserves to be much better known. I will focus on the etymology of the word "relic," and then move on to some commentary about certainly one of the more satirically funny novels of all time. Taking a look at the Latin roots of the word relic, we come to the following two Latin roots:

Linquo, linquere, liqui—to leave, abandon, forsake {lic, lict, liqu}

relic: A "relic" is something "left behind" as an artifact for other people to cherish. Saint's relics, for instance, were huge items in the Middle Ages...many of which were fakes, like pig's bones.

relinquish: To "leave back" for someone else. When you "relinquish" an item, you abandon it to another.

delinquent: If you are delinquent in paying your taxes, you have forsaken paying them on time.

derelict : A derelict ship is one that has been "left or abandoned" because it is not longer of service.

reliquary: A reliquary is often a highly-decorated vessel for holding sacred objects, such as relics, or things that have been "left behind" in the past that now have great intrinsic and usually religious value.

The Relic
Eca de Queiroz

The Relic was, in parts, hilarious and filled with wry, ironic humor, especially concerning the hypocrisy of Teodorico as he proclaims his religious fervor and abstinence in the presence of his rich Aunt Patrocinio, while he secretly is a debauchee, having numerous affairs with women, the sexual act of which his aunt abhors. Aunt Patrocinio reminded me of a dried, rancid leek, kind of like Chaucer’s reeve tripled. Aunt P was also highly hypocritical, as she cared very little for people or the message of Christ, of love and forgiveness, but rather only loved the specious worshiping of images of Christ. Eca and Teodorico cannot stand this, and so T goes about during the day concocting delicious fabrications of how holy he is, which are completely outrageous in their unctuous exaggeration, but Aunt P swallows them whole because she so wants to delude herself. Anyway, T is doing this simply because he wants Auntie to make her his heir, and thus must appear as chaste and fervent as possible while she is alive, all so that he can inherit all that money and move to the brothels of Paris which is where is really wants to live. He accedes to his Aunt’s wish to bring back a holy relic from Palestine, so off he goes, landing first on his travels to Alexandria, where he promptly has an affair with Maria, and before he leaves she gives him her red nightdress, which T keeps wrapped up in a package as a remembrance or relic from her. At this point, the novel turns into a phantasmagoria of sorts, as T witnesses Jesus’s interrogation, incarceration, and crucifixion (with even a mention of the crurifragio of the other two victims who had not died). This went on for some time, was quite interesting, but did not have the verve and ironic, humorous flair of the parts with T and his diabolical Auntie. During this time he finds and has fashioned for him a Crown of Thorns, which magically "becomes" The Crown of Thorns, the major relic which he is going to hand to his Aunt which will secure his rightful place as spotless heir (he needs to become like her conception of the Church, a walking, allegorical Church, as it were, because Auntie wants to give all of her money to that!). He also gets almost every other conceivable relic, including nails from Noah’s Ark, potsherds from the jug that Mary Magdalene carried, etc. etc. He cannot believe that his scholarly companion Topsius says that he can claim the Crown of Thorns to be the legitimate one, to which Topsius replies: “The value of Relics, Dom Raposo, lies not in their authenticity but in the faith that they inspire. You can tell your Auntie that it was the Crown of Thorns.” On the return home he wishes to deflower a certain nun he sees that he saw previously, whom he then sees again as her boat crosses his on the way back to Lisbon, but he declines, telling himself that it is silly for him to even think about it. He gives what he believes to be the dress to a poor woman, and then arrives trimphantly home, having had a rather blustery case of nikhedonia during the boat ride. Everyone lauds him, but when the unveiling of the Great Relic occurs, T and Auntie are both horrified to discover that it is not, after all, the Crown of Thorns, but Mary’s red nightdress! Completely befuddled and horrified by the dress of a prostitute, Auntie throws T out of the house. T ends up marrying fairly well, but never gains that vast richness that he could have had; he does get by by selling all of his paraphernalia from his journeys, and then simply concocts with materials at hand, at one point having sold 75 nails from the crucifixion. At the end of the novel, T laments that he did not have, upon the unveiling of the scarlet dress and Mary’s note, that he had not possessed the courage to lie, lacked the “shameless heroism to lie.” A couple interesting notes. T begins telling the truth after he has a visit, in the form of a ghostly Christ, of his Conscience, who tells him that he is the progenitor of all religious faiths; believing this, he ruthlessly does not lie again, even when he thinks that that act will not allow him to get what he wants (despite the fact that he does rue the fact at the very end of the novel that he had not had the courage to do the very thing that he refused to do now.). In his new telling of truth, he does end up being wealthy via Crispim, who appreciates his honesty. Then, after saying that he had not had the “shameless heroism to lie,” which “is responsible for creating all sciences and religions (cf. Joseph Knecht), he realizes that if he had said that the dress was the dress of Mary Magdalene, no one would have doubted him, and that religious scholars and scientists would have researched and culled legions of information from that dress, inferring all incorrect information that nevertheless would have been stamped with irrefutable authority (with the implication that much of what we believe today has undergone a similar process of ballooning from an outright but rationalized lie). Indeed, T knows that he would have been celebrated by the Universities and beloved by the Church, and would have been fabulously wealthy into the bargain. It is interesting to know that T is reformed, even though he does regret his lack of heroism, but that reformation seems to have no lesson and T never discusses why this is a good thing, it just seems to happen because he promised that it would, and that ironically if he had lied, then he would have been certain of his place in the Celestial City.
     The Relic is hard to find.  At this point in time it is not in print.  Probably Eca's two best works, however, are Cousin Bazilio and The Maias.  Find links to them below.  These are both adult reads, as is The Relic

Fascinated with English vocabulary words? Want to pick them apart into their constituent Greek and Latin roots? Want to know even more words that come from the Latin root words Linquo, linquere, liqui—to leave, abandon, forsake? Studying hard for the SAT or GRE verbal section, and just can't get a handle on all of those vocabulary words, which are truly legion? Check out, where you will find the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today, and also the most's in full color, and artistically designed. There's even a Greek and Latin roots poster available, which nicely illustrates the full power of what Greek and Latin root words can do for you.