Sunday, April 12, 2015

Word of the Day: lotusland

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is lotusland:

1 : a place inducing contentment especially through offering an idyllic living situation

2 : a state or an ideal marked by contentment often achieved through self-indulgence
M-W explains:
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his men discover a magical land of lotus-eaters. Some of the sailors eat the delicious “lotus” and forget about their homeland, pleading to stay forever in this “lotusland.” (It is likely that the lotus in question was inspired by the fruit of a real plant of the buckthorn family, perhaps the jujube, whose sweet juice is used in candy making and which has given its name to a popular fruity candy.) The label lotusland is now applied to any place resembling such an ideal of perfection, but it also carries connotations of indolence and self-indulgence, possibly derived from the way the sailors refused to work once they reached the original lotusland. The dreamy unreality of a lotusland is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Well, sort of. Lotusland is not a nice place to visit, precisely because to visit is to stay. As Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation puts it,

The Lotos Eaters offer a dangerous form of xenía [hospitality] — an anti-hospitality, really, that erases the identity of the xeinos [guest]. There’s nothing malevolent about it: the Lotos Eaters have some choice stuff, and they’re happy to share. But to eat the lotus is to lose one’s nostos [homecoming]; the guest consumes the lotus, and the lotus consumes the guest. Think of the language of substance abuse: crackhead , meth head . The substance takes over the user’s consciousness.

I first encountered the lotus as a schoolboy, in Ross Russell’s Bird Lives (1973), a biography of Charlie Parker. One chapter is titled “Yardbird in Lotus Land.” I thought lotus land was slang for California. I didn’t yet know about Homer.

[If you’ve seen what happens to lines of poetry in various browsers on various devices, you will understand why Fitzgerald’s lines appear as an image.]

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