Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Browne and the Mandrakes

Recently I was delighted to encounter in the writings of one old friend — Sir Thomas Browne, the subject of a past blogging — a discussion of Rachel's mandrakes, also the subject of an earlier post. Not only does Brown discuss the same issues I raised in that post, but he anticipated one of my points, that Rachel did not want the mandrakes in order to conceive:
Againe, it is not deducible from the Text or concurrent sentence of Comments, that Rachel had any such intention, and most do rest in the determination of Austine [i.e. St. Augustine], that she desired them for rarity, pulchritude or suavity; nor is it probable she would have resigned her bed unto Leah, when at the same time she had obtained a medicine to fructifie her selfe, and therefore Drusius who hath expressely and favourably treated hereof, is so farre from conceding this intention, that he plainly concludeth, Hoc quo modo illic in mentem venerit conjicere nequeo; how this conceit fell into mens minds it cannot fall into mine, for the Scripture delivereth it not, nor can it be clearely deduced from the Text.
Not only that, but Browne also points out something I missed, that in the "Chaldy paraphrase" — that is the Targum — to the Song of Songs the word "mandrake" is rendered as "balsam." That strengthens another point I made, namely that Rachel might have wanted the mandrakes for their fragrance.

Of course, I'm mainly interested in Browne's citation of the Targum. In the Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646), from which this quotation is taken, Browne quotes from the "Chaldee paraphrase" a number of times, but never in such as way as to indicate that he read the original Aramaic. Evidently his knowledge of the Targum was derived from one or more Latin translations.

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