Maundy, pun in translation
Maundy Thursday to everyone!
The common understanding of our sanctified English word maundy is that it is derived from Latin, either mendicantem or mandatum, for “beggar” or “command.” Below are respective, related, entries from http://www.etymonline.com.
- late 14c., from L. mendicantem (nom. mendicans) “beggar,” prp. of mendicare “to beg,” from mendicus “beggar,” originally “cripple” (connection via cripples who beg), from menda “fault, physical defect” (see mendacious).
- mid-15c., from M.E. maunde “the Last Supper,” also “ceremony of washing the feet,” from O.Fr. mandé, from L. mandatum “commandment” (see mandate); so called in reference to the opening words of the church service for this day, Mandatum novum do vobis “A new commandment I give unto you” (John xiii.34), words supposedly spoken by Jesus to the Apostles after washing their feet at the Last Supper.
French wikipedians make me like the second possibility best, although they manage to combine it with the first possibility. They say:
Il y avait un jeu de mot entre « mandét » et « commandét » comme entre« mandatum novum » et « commandantum ».« Le lavement des pieds, le mandatum peuperum, ainsi appelé parce que l’antienne du Jeudi-Saint commence par : Mandatum novum do vobis, se traduisit en Mandé ; on disait le mandé, pour désigner cette cérémonie qui se liait à une quête faite au profit des pauvres. La mande, manda, employée pour recueillir l’aumône, rattache probablement son étymologie à cette fête et à son nom. »
In other words:
There’s punning between the Old French phrases “mandét” and “commandét” just as there is a pun between the Latin “mandatum novum” and “commandantum.” An engraving in the Louvre in Paris has this note:“The washing of feet is called the ‘mandatum peuperum’ because the antiphon, the liturgy of Holy Thursday, begins with ‘Mandatum novum do Vobis’ from which our French ‘Mandé’ (for ‘Commandment’) is derived. This describes the binding commandment to make a search for the poor. The commandment, ‘manda’, used for collecting alms, is probably related to this etymology for the festival name.”
All of you French speakers will know that I’ve not gotten that quotation quite right. Not at all. But then this is what happens with translations, and transliterations, of translations.
I guess what I really wanted to say is that the Latin and Old French translations of John 13:34 find something not in the original. The Latin puns as does the later French. The original Greek does not pun. It goes, instead, like this:
ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους·
Then again, we can’t presume that Jesus was speaking Greek, can we? And we can see that the odd gospel Greek probably adds a literary something, some alliteration and some rhyme that was not in the real “spoken” original. Seems that, as old as all of this literary and sanctified language is, much of it, if just in wordplay, can be original and “new.”