Written by Ms. Michelle Lefolii, School Principal
In my grade 12 Writer’s Craft class last week, the students were working on an exercise in which they were asked to write a passage dense in poetic devices.
One of the intrepid students, Aurora, decided to do some research into less common devices, and encountered one known as the Janus parallelism. It’s a sophisticated device in which a pun is made by including a word in one line of poetry that has one meaning when read against the previous line and a second meaning when read against the line following.
Intriguing. The example given, however, was in Medieval Hebrew. Our class discussed this conundrum briefly and commented on how unhelpful an example it was to those of us unfamiliar with that language.
A second student in the class, Ariel, thought back to his days as a Hebrew student prior to his bar mitzvah, and paired his nine-year old’s vocabulary with his technical literacy, and after attacking his keyboard for a while came up with a reasonable assumption as to which word in the text was being punned upon. This however, unfortunately proved to be a dead end.
Aurora tried the Google translate function with no greater success.
The students had now identified the relevant biblical passage from which the text had been drawn, and resourcefully consulted the English language version. The janus parallelism, sadly, didn’t translate.
Jokes were made about how if only our medieval Hebrew weren’t so rusty we’d have solved the riddle by now, when suddenly we realized that we do, in fact, know someone who probably would stand a good chance of being able to read the Hebrew original.
Through our good friends at the internet, Ariel sent word out to Abelard alumnus Josiah Cohen, now in his first year at Columbia. Within minutes we had the answer, accompanied by a scholarly article Josiah had found relating to the topic.
This will remain one of my happiest moments as a teacher: proof that the Abelard intellectual community extends beyond our walls and after graduation.