Appetite and Desire
One of my favourite topics! When is it desire, and when is is appetite? This is the original puzzle,
Et ad virum tuum erit desiderium tuum
And to your man will be your desire Gen. 3:16
Et in te erit appetitus eius
And to you will be his appetite Gen. 4:7
These two citations are translations of teshuqah. It is in translation that the chasm opens between “desire” and “appetite”, not in Hebrew. This is the Latin of Pagninus, who brought this meaning of teshuqah into the European tradition.
So, now to Isaiah and psyche, as a translation of nephesh, also possibly “desire” and “appetite.” But I don’t find any illumination in the Latin translations of nephesh – it is simply translated as anima (soul.) Some, including Alter, suggest that this is wrong-headed, that all would be solved if we translate nephesh as “throat.” In my view, this does not solve the problem. There is a double meaning in the Hebrew that we cannot reproduce in English, and could not be done in Greek either. Here is Ecc. 6:7,
כָּל-עֲמַל הָאָדָם, לְפִיהוּ;
וְגַם-הַנֶּפֶשׁ, לֹא תִמָּלֵא.
πας μοχθος του ανθρωπου εις στομα αυτου
και γε η ψυχη ου πληρωθησεται
All the labour of man is for his mouth,
and yet the appetite is not filled. JPS
In this passage, we really want to read nephesh as “throat.” How simple! A neat parallel between “mouth” and “throat”- “the labour of a man is for his mouth, and yet his throat is not filled.” But what about Ecc. 6:9?
טוֹב מַרְאֵה עֵינַיִם,
αγαθον οραμα οφθαλμων
υπερ πορευομενον ψυχη
και γε τουτο ματαιοτης
και προαιρεσις πνευματος
Better is the seeing of the eyes
than the wandering of the desire;
this also is vanity
and a striving after wind. JPS
Is it possible to translate nephesh as “throat?” “Better is the seeing of the eyes than the wandering of the throat?” Oh help! And afterall, what is wrong with this?
All the labour of a human is for the mouth,
and yet the soul is not satisfied.
Better what is seen with the eyes
than where wanders the soul,
this is futile
and chasing the wind.
Believe me, my soul wanders, but my throat stays at home. The duality of the Hebrew is hard to translate into English, or Greek or Latin. My throat has appetite, but it has no desire. But what is the author speaking of – the throat or desire. I choose desire. Even death has desire, it seeks and consumes, that is the image, just as crouching sin desires Cain. I accept that this is the poetry of Hebrew. Sheol desires us. This is central to the Hebrew Bible.
Update: Here is an example of the Greek word psyche being used for appetite, in Cyropaedia, by Xenophon,
οἱ δ᾽ αὖ τεταγμένοι, ἐπεὶ ὥρα ἦν,
τῷ δὲ ἡ ψυχὴ σῖτον μὲν οὐ προσίετο,
διψῆν δ᾽ ἐδόκει, καὶ ἔπιεν ἡδέως.
And then again, when the hour came,
those whose office it was set dinner before him.
But his soul had no desire for food,
but he seemed thirsty and drank with pleasure.
Surely here his “soul” refers to his literal appetite.