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Siroccos

March 7, 2011

Reading the poetry of Warren last night, I came across a new favorite word–Sirocco–that is, “A warm south or southeast wind of southern Italy, Sicily, and the Mediterranean islands, originating in the Sahara Desert as a dry dusty wind but becoming moist as it passes over the Mediterranean.” This wind is in Dickinson’s imaginary lexicon as well.

It occurs to me that Latin has wonderful words for winds, each of which carries a distinct image, character, associations, and not merely reference to their compass-point of origin. Eurus is characterized by a favorite teacher of mine as “most often cold, rainy, wintry, and the most disliked of the winds,” and Aquilo is “associated especially with clear cold weather”–I remember this teacher professing that Aquilo and Boreas (alternate names for the North Wind) summon up entirely distinct images and feeling for Vergil.

Boreas is a great booming stormer, Aquilo cold and serene: et claro silvas cernes Aquilone moveri. “And if, at the hour the sun restores the day, and when he hides it again, / His circle is distinct, your fear of storm clouds will be vain: / You will see the forest moving in a bright Aquilo.” (As a side note, since the last mention of the sun–who is actually supposed to be the “hero” of this passage, though Vergil is always letting the focus of his attention get usurped by whatever offers itself as the most beautiful or gripping image–is of him hiding the day, I think that last image must be of a radiant night!)

Of course their winds are also gods. But the Romans’ mythology had this lovely and bright naivety that allowed Vergil to talk, for instance, about a farmer’s wife “boiling down the moisture of sweet must on Vulcan” (he simply means a cook-fire!). It was still possible to see, without affectation, the quite literal fire in one and the same glance as the god. Likewise, though Eurus is a divinity, for the Romans there is no more contradiction in speaking of “Euri” than for us of “Sirrocos,” Easterlies or Nor’easters. Anyhow, their being gods is not different from their being winds: their names are certainly not, for the Romans, porcelain personifications–but usable and decent words to capture the essence of the weather.

All of that to ask if anyone knows of any other wind names that they like or love: especially in English, but any other languages welcome as well. I thought we might start a little catalogue.

(Also, as a full disclosure, this post got usurped by “Georgics-nostalgia”: both missing the poem, perhaps the most beautiful and magical ever written–and also the class, certainly the most delightful of my grad-school days so far, even rivalling in happiness the best of my whole studenthood, which is saying a lot. Also, and relatedly, there are few thoughts above that do not really originate in, or are not at least deeply colored by the sparkling teaching of Dr. Maurer. Though I’m sure there may be inaccuracies that have sneaked in entirely on my account.)

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