What is Worth Knowing in Comparison with Arabic?

[Letter, 1948]

As you know Phyllis is at it again, and so little Fireball must be weaned. She doesn’t like the idea and neither do I, for now I am as capable of feeding her at all hours of the night as anybody else, and the obligation lies heavy upon me since my otherwise fairly cooperative wife has been threatening a miscarriage which has put her flat on her back. Does that add to my labors? It does.

I have lost roughly 104 pounds since our return to Shangri-la. However to while away the idle hours, and because singularly advantageous opportunities were offered, I have taken up Persian. In three weeks I am able to read the stuff with greater ease than I could Arabic after 13 years! The irony of it – if we had been spending all that time on ANYthing but Arabic we could all be experts. But what can you suggest that is worth knowing in comparison with Arabic? Even Greek loses its challenges after 20 years – which is about the time when you are ready for lesson five in the language of the Koran.

Last Saturday being a whooping, howling blizzard I spent the entire day at the Kaders – we had a joyous time: old Mose divulges a little more each visit. Their kids are amazingly bright – no one can ever tell me that the Arab is the intellectual inferior of anyone on earth. The only difference between the mental gifts of East & West is that occasionally rather stupid characters DO turn up among the Sons of The Desert – a thing which fortunately for us never happens in the West, not, at least, since the establishment of universal compulsory education.

Think of it, Mrs. Kader can’t read or write a line of any language, poor woman: so to cover up her mental deficiency she learns a book by heart when it is read to her once, and since she cannot read epic poetry (as all Americans do, being literate) she must perforce speak it. I used to think it was an accident of geography that had enabled the Arab to maintain his ways unchanged thru the ages and all that, yet apart from all physical considerations these people have an honesty, simplicity, toughness, and good humor…[T]hese wonderfully uncomplicated people are less like animals than the most civilized Westerner – vivid, nervous, imaginative, generous, impulsive and extremely moral…It is that forthright and magnanimous quality which makes your friend Col. Myres (Meier, Meyer, etc.) a Pearl of Great Price amid all the bargain-counter jewels. There is something magnificent about that man – an antique simplicity coupled with an honest shrewdness that recalls a better humanity; such a one the godlike Odysseus must have been. Altogether I have to admit that with all their politics, intrigue, cast, and chicanery the military are actually far nearer to the natural state of man than those monsters of system and monuments of self-deception which represent business & the arts.

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About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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