Insectes Nocturnes de Mauvais Présage/Nocturnal Insects which Presage Evil

By Pacifica, in 'Non-Latin Talk', Jan 12, 2018.

  1. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris
    This is another unknown-to-me reference from Vathek. I Googled key words but didn't find anything, so I thought I'd ask here again in case anyone knew. Has anyone here ever heard of a specific kind of nocturnal insects that superstitious Muslims think presage evil?

    Here's the original French sentence where the reference is found, and an English translation:

    "Les bons Musulmans crurent entendre le bourdonnement de ces insectes nocturnes qui sont de mauvais présage."
    "The good Mussulmans fancied that they heard the sullen hum of those nocturnal instects, which presage evil."
  2. Mafalda Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
  3. Chilly Polly New Member

    I tried investigating this question once. I think the answer is that "nocturnal insects" is merely an attempt to rationalize the phenomenon. Outside such rationalization, the sound was not believed to be insects; it was believed to be demons. I don't believe any specific insects have ever been identified.

    Possibly, Beckford imagines they may be some kind of locust, since he mentions locusts on the next page. A note to the text connects such "locusts" possibly with cicadas.

    A note, added in the 1834 edition of Vathek, in connection with this "sullen hum", mentions that "the nocturnal sound called by the Arabians azif, was believed to be the howling of demons." This information is apparently taken from John Richardson's A Dissertation on the Languages, Literature and Manners of Eastern Nations (1778) at p.274 ("Azif A nocurnal sound heard in the desert, which they believe to be the howling of demons"). In 1806, Richardson issued a new edition of his Dissertation, in which the entry was revised as follows, at p. 642: "ažïf, (Demons), howling or hissing in the desert; the imaginary nocturnal sound of the devils in the desert. The sound of thunder." Note that thunder is not necessarily nocturnal nor is it imaginary, and Richardson seems to be hedging his bets.

    What this truly was is anyone's guess. But it has been speculated to be related to the "singing sand" phenomenon, which it turns out is not caused by insects. Nor is the "singing sand" phenomenon necessarily nocturnal, though of course that makes it scarier.
    Pacifica likes this.
  4. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris
    Thanks for the interesting information.

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