March 10, 2021
For today's entry, we attempt to uncover the story behind a rather curious word, which despite being lost to obscurity is perhaps the most apt term to describe "the tribulations of yearning undergone for what is ultimately fated to be one's downfall."
The word "cornutation" appears to be as elusive in the search for its meaning as the pursuit I believe it alludes to. Searching for the word in google's repository of books reveals "Tales from The Terrific Register: The Book of Wonders" as the first result. Published in 2009, it is an anthology of strange tales depicting even stranger afflictions. Here is an excerpt:
A Singular Instance Of Cornutation
Mr George Ash, secretary of the Dublin society, in a letter to one of the secretaries of the Royal Society, relates the story of a girl named Anne Jackson, born of English parents in the city of Waterford in Ireland, from whose body, when about three years old, horns grew out of several places, wherefore the mother concealed her out of shame, and bred her up privately; but she soon after dying, and her father being poor, she was thrown on the parish. When she was between thirteen and fourteen years old, she could scarcely go alone, and was no taller than a child of five years old; she was very silly, spoke but little, and that not plainly; her voice was low and rough, her complexion and face well enough, except her eyes, which were dead; and she could hardly perceive the difference of colours. The horns abounded chiefly about the joints and textures, and were fastened to the skin like warts; and about the roots resembled them much in substances, though towards the extremities they grew much harder and more horny. At the end of each finger and toe grew a horn as long as the finger or toe, not straight, but bending like a turkey's claw. On the other joints of her fingers or toes were smaller horns, which sometimes fell off, and others grew in their places. On her knees and elbows, and round about joints were many horns; two more remarkable at the point of each elbow, which twisted like ram's horns; that on the left arm was above an inch broad, and four inches long. At her armpits and the nipples of her breasts, small hard substances shot out, much whiter and more slender than the rest. At each ear also grew a horn; and the skin of her neck was callous and horny, like that of her hands and feet. She ate and drank heartily, slept soundly, and performed all the offices of nature like other healthy people.
It can be inferred from the above excerpt that the word certainly bears relations to the keratin-based projections commonly attributed to the deer and the antelope. Sifting through numerous search results that have perhaps erroneously used "cornutation" instead of "commutation" or "cormutation" (exploring this apparent malignancy is a task for another day), and multiple results displaying French papers, we come across one that uses the word cornutation in regards to a process affecting the "water surface profiles in Colorado." A quick search leads us to this sentence in an article on Researchgate:
This degeneration could be related to a higher lipid content in these fish or to the strong hornlike cornutate processes found in the valves of the diatom P. tricornutum.
Taking a closer look, this is an obvious misspelling of the word, "cornuate" meaning "horn-shaped." At this point in our search for meaning, the luminious revelation of our own ignorance strikes us. It is time to look for the word "cornuation."
"Phew!", we sigh in relief. The word "cornuation" appears to have no significance.
Beginning our research afresh, we narrow it down further and come across the following excerpt in "Shandygaff" by Christopher Morley:
He is at his best when he takes up some philosophic dilemma, or some quaint abstraction (viz., Certainty, Predestination, Idleness, Uxoricide, Prohibition, Compromise, or Cornutation) and sets the idea spinning.
This, I believe, is where we finally come across the true meaning of the word. The word acts as a noun, seeking to reify something abstract.
This becomes clear in the following excerpt from Logan Pearsall Smith's "All Trivia:"
The folio gave at length philosophic consolations for all the misadventures said by the author to be inseparable from human existence—Poverty, Shipwrecks, Plagues, Famines, Flights of Locusts, Love-Deceptions, Inundations. Against these antique Disasters I armed my soul; and I thought it as well to prepare myself against the calamity called 'Cornutation,' or by other less learned names. How Philosophy taught that after all it was but a pain founded on conceit, a blow that hurt not; the reply of the Cynic philosopher to one who reproached him, 'Is it my fault or hers?' how Nevisanus advises the sufferer to ask himself if he have not offended; Jerome declared it impossible to prevent; how few or none are safe, and, as the Moon astronomically makes horns at the Earth, her Husband, so do the ladies in many countries, especially parts of Africa, punctually cornutate their consorts; how Caesar, Pompey, Augustus, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Marcus Aurelius, and many other great Kings and Princes had all worn Actaeon's badge; and how Philip turned it to a jest, Pertinax the Emperor made no reckoning of it; Erasmus declared it was best winked at, there being no remedy but patience, Dies dolorem minuit; Time, Age must mend it; and how, according to the authorities, bars, bolts, oaken doors, and towers of brass, are all in vain. 'She is a woman,' as the old Pedant wrote to a fellow Philosopher....
My interpretation of the word "cornutation" is derived from this particular myth in the Roman and Greek pantheon, its description directly taken from wikipedia:
According to the Latin version of the story told by the Roman Ovid having accidentally seen Diana (Artemis) on Mount Cithaeron while she was bathing, he was changed by her into a stag, and pursued and killed by his fifty hounds.
The act of pursuing feminine charm most oft ends with a brutal transformation. As Actaeon suffered, turned into a stag by Artemis' fury, we all await the same fate.
The shadows gently cloak the humble bed of the forest, enveloping it in blissful zwodder. Gales of the night float amidst the foliage; a far-away brook gurgles joyously. Silver-rimmed are her eyes and the wind catches them entranced. Dark ink spills into a smile as she offers you her most prized arrow.
Ancient are the antlers that leap across fields, coroneted well-before the times of the hunt. Your spirit follows her in question, feeling the thrum of Earth's soil thumping against your heart.