Sunday, July 26, 2009

Latin Root Word Origins of Tolstoy's War and Peace

Welcome back fans of Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words, and great talks about life-changing books, with a focus on great literature! In this series that I'm offering, I am expounding upon books that have made an impression upon myself and many other readers, and the Latin root words inherent in their English titles. Last week I took a look at the word origins of Italo Calvino's book The Nonexistent Knight, which, next to Don Quixote, is one of the funniest books I've ever read, and most certainly one of the strangest. This week I shall expound upon Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, focusing on the etymology of the word "peace," and then moving on to some commentary about certainly one of the great novels of all time. Taking a look at the Latin roots of the word peace, we come to the following two Latin roots:

Pax, pacis—peace {pay, peac, peas}

Paciscor, pacisci, pactus sum—to agree, make a bargain

Let's look now at some of the general, SAT, and GRE vocabulary words that come from these roots:

pay: To pay is etymologically to make ‘peace’ with a merchant after receiving a product; we all know what happens when we do not pay our bills!
pacify: to "make peace" with someone is to "pacify" him
appease: to "appease" someone is also to "make peace" with her, or to calm or soothe her
pacifist: a "pacifist" is a "peacemaker," that is, someone who does not want to war with anyone. She or he is a proponent of "pacifism."
pact: a "pact" is an agreement between two people; when you agree with someone else, you etymologically "make peace" with them
compact: an "agreement with: another person; note the Latin-based prefix "com," root word of such SAT vocabulary items as commiserate, compassion, compliance, and commensurate. For more English vocabulary words that come from this prolific Latin prefix, check out, a site where you can find the most comprehensive Latin roots dictionary of English vocabulary words available today.

Now on to Leo Tolstoy's seminal work, War and Peace.

Immense. This novel cannot and should not really be termed a novel, at least not in today’s sense of the novel, which can be practically anything that publishers think can make money. Rather, is should be denominated a “trans” or “supra” novel, because it almost, in parts, seemed more real than life itself, almost as if nature herself wrote it. So many insights into human nature are bruited with great wisdom and perspicacity; such complexities of every sort of human conduct and interrelationship are untied in a true Gordian knot fashion. It’s almost as if Tolstoy somehow knew all the secrets of human nature, and was able to expound upon them, bringing them to light. I was particularly struck by the meaninglessness of it all; the senseless slaughter of war, the silliness of the young men who want to go to war, caught up in an isopraxis of startling dimensions, only realizing what war was really like when they ineluctably pay a visit to the hospital. During Manichaeanistic glimpses in the novel, one saw the meaning of life among the poshlost of war (quite Gogolian, really)—one soldier, Prince Andrew, I believe, was shot, and is lying on the field after Austerlitz (I think). He opens his eyes and perceives the clarity of the sky above him, melting, as it were, into it, and becoming one with it, and is truly surprised at himself that he has never noticed that before (a great example of yogic attention, nearing samadhi). Somehow the approach of eternity via leaving this bardo brings him towards the revelation. Peacetime pursuits are just as inane for the most part as the bellicose undertakings, although the maturation and change of Pierre is one very noticeable and encouraging part; he becomes human, being able to throw off the dross of society (as Percival lost his humanity with Gornemant de Goort, thereby failing at the Grail Castle). Kutuzov, the supreme commander of the Russian forces, is an island onto himself, is ridiculed as doing nothing, but then his wisdom is later apprehended—sometimes the noetic convictions of true geniuses are not cognizable by the masses, such as in the instant when Kutuzov realizes that he need do nothing at all to defeat the retreating French—they are auto-destructing, and yet the soldiers about him feel, or are coerced by that “je ne sais quois” into doing something, when the doing should have been nothing at all. Sometimes doing nothing is the best policy, although this is not readily cognizable by the mediocre mind. Napoleon, the buffoon, is a Hitler of sorts, a monster who is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands—or, as Tolstoy argues, was he really? Or was the power that moved the French and the Russians alike unknown, and indeed beyond epistemological rigor, making Napoleon a mere puppet, thereby making him more foolish than ever, since he doesn’t even realize it? And in his heart of hearts feels guilty causelessly? Sometimes the force that moves nations is beyond even the most charismatic.
War and Peace was an event. It taught me that much will happen during one’s life, warlike and tranquil, and to be prepared for almost anything, such as Natasha losing Prince Andrew because of her momentary madness over the popinjay Anatole, which then precipitates the Prince’s weltschmerz, which causes him to be wounded, which later causes the grief of Natasha and Princess Mary, which then allows Pierre to marry Natasha, the only woman he has ever loved (how could one love Helene?).
The best scene in the novel was the fatuous Pierre “observing” the war, much as the American Civil War was attended by picnickers, although he does become seriously transformed by this, especially after he is wounded, so his silliness transmutes to wisdom (was this his purification from fatuousity?).
I don’t know how Tolstoy did it. This was a simply gripping novel—some of the characters were alive in their own right, and are still alive (like what Shakespeare could do, especially with Hamlet, Falstaff, and Rosalind).
Pierre, in a moment of fulgurous insight, realized that, no matter how hard one might try, one can never convince another person to change his thoughts or his conduct (except a child). Hence, whenever he spoke with people, he simply observed them, smilingly, without trying to expostulate with them. This seems to me an excellent and non-aggressive way to live—Ryle Hira, or Buddhistic acceptance of others, with an ironic smile, of course!!
Take a gander at War and Peace, but get a good translation. I find that David Magarshack and especially the dynamic duo of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear are nonpareil.

Fascinated with English vocabulary words? Want to pick them apart into their constituent Greek and Latin roots? Want to know even more words that come from the Latin root words pax, pacis and paciscor
, and most especially the prolific prefix cum? Studying hard for the SAT or GRE verbal section, and just can't get a handle on all of those vocabulary words, which are truly legion? Check out, where you will find the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionaryavailable today, and also the most's in full color, and artistically designed. There's even a Greek and Latin roots posteravailable, which nicely illustrates the full power of what Greek and Latin root words can do for you.