Notes on the 1992 Revision of The Tales

The Revision of The Tales

[An Excerpt from To Fathom The Gist, Vol 2 – The Arch Absurd]


There are some word choices made by the revisers of The Tales which do not, on the surface, seem particularly poor until you examine the philology of the chosen word. We provide a couple of examples. The first comes from Chapter 15, The First Descent of Beelzebub upon the Planet Earth. Gurdjieff writes:

“And so, my boy, these means by which King Appolis then obtained what was necessary from his subjects for the maintenance of the greatness of the community entrusted to him seemed to our young countryman, for some reason or other, unjust, and, as it was said, he often became very indignant and restless whenever he happened to hear of some new device of King Appolis for getting what was necessary.

The Revision has the following text:

“Well, my boy, the methods used by King Appolis to extract from his subjects what was necessary for maintaining the greatness of his community seemed to our young countryman, for some reason or other, unjust, and he grew restive and indignant whenever he heard of some new device of the king’s for getting what was required.

The Revision chooses “restive” rather than “restless.” In respect of the dictionary definition, these two words are roughly equivalent, with the slight difference of “restive” implying someone or thing that is becoming increasingly difficult to control. This distinction in meaning becomes much clearer when the etymology of the two words is examined.

“Restless” is a compound of “rest” and “less.” The “rest” component derives from the Latin restare meaning “to remain.” So “restless” implies unable to remain or stand back. “Restive” clearly has the same root (rest), but its suffix (ive) is different and, in fact, almost the opposite of “less.” Its origin is from the Old French restif, which meant “inclined to remain still or inert.” The later meaning of “unmanageable” was acquired in the 17th century when the word was used to describe a horse that refused to move forward. It is an interesting example of reversal of meaning. For that reason it is a word that Gurdjieff would never have chosen for this context.

Another example is provided by the word “spongers.” Gurdjieff originally wrote in Chapter 34, Russia:

“Well, these ‘worthy’ things for offering as sacrifices were then called kroahns. In all probability this ‘manipulation’ was devised by the ‘theocrats’ of that time as a profitable item for the welfare of their, as they are called, ‘sycophants.’

The Revision prefers the following words, substituting “spongers” for “sycophants”:

Well, the objects considered ‘worthy’ to be offered as sacrifices were then called ‘kroahns.’ In all probability, this ‘manipulation’ had been invented by the theocrats of that time as a source of revenue for the benefit of their ‘spongers,’ as they are called.

The modern meaning of the word “sycophant” leans more towards the idea of a servile flatterer than a sponger, but the word sponger would almost fit. Unfortunately, the etymology tells a completely different story. Ultimately the word “sycophant” derives from the Greek sykophantes meaning “false accuser or slanderer.” The Latin sycophanta had a similar meaning but includes the idea of “informer.” Philologically the two texts are not in accord.