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First Columnist

September 30, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Simeon the Elder

Simeon the Elder

Bill Safire’s death on Sunday has brought a a wealth of obituaries (NYT) and reminiscences (Maureen Dowd in today’s column). I chose not to read his NYT column for years, but eventually I came to appreciate him through his On Language pieces in the Sunday Magazine and began to peak at the occasional column.

Andrew Sullivan had a post this morning pointing to a guest article by Safire in April 2008 at Anatoly Liberman’s Oxford Etymologist blog in which Safire attempts to determine whothe first blogger is. I now read Liberman’s blog regularly, but I didn’t at the time, so I missed this wonderful Safire piece. Safire fails to reach a definitive conclusion on the first blogger, but he has no trouble identifying the first columnist:

His name is Simeon Stylites the Elder. According to the OED, a stylite was “an ascetic who lived on the top of a pillar”. (Greek “stylos” means “pillar”.) The sainted Simeon the Elder took up residence atop a column in Syria in AD 423. He remained atop that column and others for 37 years, each loftier and narrower than the preceding; his final column was 66 feet high.

Simeon the Elder stood day and night, leaning on a rail, dependent for food on what his disciples (and presumably the Younger) brought him by ladder. He preached sermons to those gathered around his column, who then went out and spread his pastoral teachings. Other columnists took up his technique and were also called stylites.

Clever guy.

Categories: History, Journalism, Language
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