Sitting on the thumbs of kings

An ever-vigilant friend of mine alerted me to the fact that the thumbs of the first two kings of Portugal, King Afonso Henriques and his successor, King Sancho I, were on display at a very old monastery in Coimbra, the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz (the Monastery of the Holy Cross).

My dear friend knows full well that I bear no truck with standing on the shoulders of giants, but would never pass up the opportunity of sitting on four (presumably stone) royal thumbs in a holy place in one of my favourite cities in Portugal.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw the poster, and discovered that thumbs were not on display after all.  What was really on offer (since my Portuguese and French are functional) was an invitation to look at tombs.  If you say “thumbs” with a Portuguese accent, the resultant utterance will sound a little like the English pronunciation of tombs. More or less.

I have added a tint to the photo (no attribution). It is green, the same colour as my gills:

thumbs of kings

 

As if the sore thumbs were not bad enough plastered all over part of the Portuguese national heritage, the non-native translator of this text does not yet know that “know” in English does not, nor ever has, functioned in the same way as “conhecer” in Portuguese or “connaître” in French.  Neither has the translator reached the stage of agonising over whether “discover”, “view”, “see” or “visit”,  would be better than “know”. The translator does not yet know that the best translation solution normally is to ignore the verb altogether and not translate it at all:

TOMBS OF THE FIRST KINGS OF PORTUGAL

“But soft, what light from yonder window breaks?” – as Juliet says in a Shakespearean play which puts her after the name of Romeo. There is something not right with this picture at all!

That is a terrible collection of words!  Who are the “first kings” of Portugal”? How many of them are there? Is it not better to say “early kings”? How many tombs? And why are tombs the focal point of the Monastery of the Holy Cross? Does that strike anyone as somewhat distasteful or, at the very least, morbid?

Assuming you have a mustard seed’s worth of Christian knowledge, let’s take a moment to weigh this up: tomb of  dead kings of Portugal whose names you do not know versus the Holy Cross, symbol of the Son of Man also known as the Son of God.

Which is more important, do you think?
Yes, quite right: clearly, the Monastery needs to change its name for marketing purposes. Here are my preliminary suggestions:

— Monastery of the Burial Place of Portugal’s First Two Kings
— Monastery of the Holy Cross (incl. Early Kings of Portugal, Deceased)
— Monastery of the Thumbs of Kings Alfonso Henriques and Sancho I of Portugal
or, simply,
— Monastery of the Thumbs (because Holy Cross is such a mouthful).

Alas! Alack! No one is going to change the name of a Monastery because of a couple of thumbs (or, more correctly, a pair of a couple of thumbs), so we will just have to come up with some acceptable English for this poster instead.

VISIT THE TOMBS. EARLY PORTUGUESE KINGS INSIDE.
TOMBS FIT FOR TWO KINGS OF PORTUGAL. THE FIRST TWO, ACTUALLY. A MUST SEE!
FIRST TWO KINGS OF PORTUGAL ENTOMBED HERE! CHECK IT OUT, Y’ALL!

THEY DID THEIR BEST; BUT NOW LAID TO REST:
FANCY TOMBS for the FIRST TWO KINGS OF PORTUGAL

All right, enough. Cross that lot out.

My final offer is this:

HISTORICAL TOMBS: HERE LIE THE
FIRST TWO KINGS OF PORTUGAL
(58)
CONNAÎTRE LES TOMBEAUX DES
PREMIERS ROIS DU PORTUGAL
(52)

CONHEÇA OS TÚMULOS DOS PRIMEIROS REIS DE PORTUGAL (49)
KNOW THE THUMBS OF THE FIRST KINGS OF PORTUGAL (46)

The numbers are the character counts with spaces. The first line of the English is 30 characters with spaces. The first line of the French is 26. The numbers for the other lines were just out of interest.  I will not criticise the shoddy design work of the poster.  Merci, non. With that gratuitous accent grave in my pocket, I would rather sit on the thumbs of kings, if it is all the same to you.

©2017 Allison Wright

 

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