By the blushes of Aurora, what [By?]

arietenata

Senior Member
italian
Hi there,

Could you tell me what " By " means here, please?

" By the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man's morning work in this world?"
Walden/ Thoreau

Does it mean " near" or " for"?

Thanks in advance.
 
  • velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    See the Collins definition #9 of "by" in our dictionary:

    (esp in oaths) invoking the name of: I swear by all the gods
    http://www.wordreference.com/definition/by

    (I swear) by the blushes of aurora etc...!
    By invoking the names of these ancient gods of the morning, Thoreau light-heartedly shows his exasperation with "most men" and their preoccupations.
     

    arietenata

    Senior Member
    italian
    See the Collins definition #9 of "by" in our dictionary:

    (esp in oaths) invoking the name of: I swear by all the gods
    http://www.wordreference.com/definition/by

    (I swear) by the blushes of aurora etc...!
    By invoking the names of these ancient gods of the morning, Thoreau light-heartedly shows his exasperation with "most men" and their preoccupations.
    So many thanks indeed. As always your explanation made it all clear.;)
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Of course I did
    This may be obvious to you, Arietenata, but it is not apparent from post #4. The forum rules encourage you to quote up to four sentences, and I think at least this amount is needed here.

    I think "by" means "in comparison to" here. I am not sure what the music of Memnon is (maybe a passage from Homer?) but in comparison with the beauty of the red dawn (blushes of Aurora), the job of dusting bits of limestone is a dull one.

    See definition 6a of by from the OED:

    6a. In comparison with, in proportion to (i.e. placed beside, for the sake of comparison or correlation); after verbs of distinguishing = from. Obs. exc. Sc.
    1340 Ayenbite (1866) 249 Amang þe bestes man heþ þane leste mouþ be þe bodie.
    ...
    1578 in J. G. Dalyell Scottish Poems 16th Cent. (1801) II. 126, I gaif thee ressoun, quhereby thou might Haue knawin the day by the dark night.
    1729 Let. in R. Wodrow Corr. (1843) III. 448 Twenty-six years ago..we were in a pleasant situation..by what we are at present.
    1768 O. Goldsmith Good Nature's Man i. 8 Compare that part of life which is to come, by that which we have past.

    EDIT: The music of Memnon is the beautiful sounds that an Egyptian statue used to make at dawn, as explained here: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Memnon-Greek-mythology The author would rather experience this than morning drudgery.
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    When I looked at the sentence in context it seemed to me an oath, like "By the beard of the Prophet!". Of course I could be wrong but it seems to me an almost humorous passage, with its exclamations and rhetorical questions - and his throwing his pieces of limestone out of the window.

    "Morning work! By the blushes of Aurora..."
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    This sentence is from a passage about the amount of furniture people have in their houses and the effort that goes into obtaining and maintaining it.

    At present our houses are cluttered and defiled with it [=furniture], and a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole, and not leave her morning's work undone. Morning work! By the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man's morning work in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was undusted still and I threw them out the window in disgust.​
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I agree with velisarius: it is an oath that references ancient deities associated with the morning.
     
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