Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tumor cordis

Min cykel har blivit stulen(ibland har fellow classicist Boris Johnson en poäng), min artikel är icke existent and quite due, något luktar under min diskbänk och Solzhenitsyn har avlidit, sålunda bläddrar vi i Cancerkliniken, och hittar följande passage, som illustrerar hopplöshet, lögner, ansvar och den eviga nyttan av att kunna latin.

(Citerar ur pocketutgåva från 1969, en översättning gjord av Nicolas Bethell och David Burg, och ni får ursäkta engelskan, det är som sagt, det språk jag helst läser på på fritiden. På försättsbladet har jag skrivit att jag läste denna i St Petersburg, stirrandes ut på istäckt Neva, och att det var kallt. Salve DBD!)

Patienten Proshka, traktorförare, har blivit utskriven och tror att han sålunda är frisk, men innan han reser hem ber han en annan patient, Kostoglotov, gulag-fånge, att titta på det intyg han fått:

"Another certificate was for the information of the health department in his place of residence. On it was written: "Tumor cordis, casus inoperabilis".

"I don't understand." Proschka poked at it with his finger. "What does it say?"
"Just let me think." Kostoglotov screwed up his eyes. "Take it away, I can think better without it."


He [Kostoglotov] had never studied Latin properly, or any other foreign language for that matter, or any subject at all except topography for sergeants. But although he'd never missed a chance to scoff at education in general, he'd always used his eyes and ears to pick up the smallest thing that might broaden his own.[...]

In the camp too he cross-questioned the man who kept the records, a shy aging little man, a penpusher in the hospital department who was sometimes sent to fetch hot water as well. He turned out to be a teacher of classical philology and ancien literature at Leningrad University. Kostoglotov conceived the idea of taking latinlessons from him. For this they had to go out and walk up and down the camp area in the freezing weather, with no paper or paper to be had. The recordkeeper would sometimes take off his glove and write something in the snow wih his finger. (There was no self-interest in giving these lessons. It was just that for a brief time they made him feel like a human being. Kostoglotovwould have had nothing to pay him with anyway. But both nearly had to pay for it. The chief camp security officer sent for them separately and interrogated them, suspecting they were preparing an escape and drawing a map of the area in the snow. He never believed a word about the latin. The lessons had to stop.)

Kostoglotov remembered from these lessons that the word casus meant case and that in- was the negative prefix. Cor, cordis he also knew from the camp, and even if he hadn't, it would not have required great imagination to guess that the word "cardiogram" came from the same root.
And the word "tumor" he had met on every page of Pathological Anatomy, which he had borrowed from Zoya.
So it had not been very difficult to work out Proshka's diagnosis: "Tumor of the heart, case inoperable."

Kostoglotov bestämmer sig för att inte berätta för Proschka att han är döende, och denne åker hem lyckligt ovetande.

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