Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Heart

(C) Konrad Schuhmann

We English speakers have a particular usage for "heart."  For contrast's sake, we have only to notice the Hebrew usage: the heart is where you think things.  (The phrase, "says in his heart" and its equivalents is common in the Bible.)  In English, it is the seat of the emotions, which seems to reflect a distinction between feelings and thoughts.  I'm all for distinctions, but this may have the disadvantage of cutting things off from one another, so that, following certain Greeks, we shall have warfare between the heart and the head, with the prejudice that it is the head that should always win.  (Which inevitably gives rise to those who say in response, "Follow your heart.")

Beyond this generalized usage, we talk about people with true hearts and good hearts; people with their heart in the right place and people who do things whole-heartedly.  So the heart stands especially for loves and loyalties, the desire, bond, and intentionality directed toward their objects, and the strength of these loves and loyalties.  When we want to measure the strength of the heart in adversity, we switch to our Norman French word: courage.  But in the concrete, we are just as likely to say, "Take heart!" 



If myths and Faerie are all about the heart's desire, then it is just as much about the testing of the heart to see if it is worthy of attaining its desire.  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

For the Egyptian Afterlife, the Heart must not outweigh the Feather of Maat

So, ramble forth, Mythopoets!  Faint heart never won fair lady (or lord)!

Addendum: It might have been hoped by some of my non-Texan readers that I would finally and fully parse "Bless your heart" for them.  I despair of every succeeding in this instance, but I assure you that the widespread assumption that it is disingenuous or even malevolent is simply false.  Its usage is very broad and is dependent on context and intonation.

2 comments:

  1. The Egyptian heart is very interesting. There are actually two different words for heart that apparently describe two different aspects of the person. One is the jb heart which refers to the internal organs collectively and also designates the emotional and cognitive life of a person, the "inner being". The h3.tj heart refers to the actual heart organ and also represents mental phenomena that are developed during the course of one's life. It is connected to concepts of individuality, consciousness and personal identity, the "moral self". And of course these two hearts were merely parts of the whole, in keeping with the very Egyptian concept of "connectivity".

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  2. Sarah: interesting stuff! Is there an importance to the parallel of the two souls (ba & ka) to the two hearts?

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