I’ve been teaching my World History I classes about the Middle Ages the past week or two, which led to a brief discussion on epithets. Y’know, those descriptors folks had back in the day instead of a family name, it seems? Eric the Red, or Charles the Bald, or Charles Martel (which means “the Hammer” and is my favorite)…everyone seemed to have one back in the day. Brandon the Bearded. Lothar the Dungstomper. Steve the Exceptionally Irritating.
So I came up with a short activity: the students had to think about five adjectives that could serve as their epithets, then pick one and explain why that’s the one that they think best describes them. I’m not sure how seriously they’re taking the assignment (or any assignment I give them; this is a tough freshman class, y’all), but it got me thinking about my own description. What epithet would they give me, if I were a king or other important personage? Would I be Charlie the Wise? Charlie the Educated? Or maybe Charlie the Amiable. Charlie the Anxious. Charlie the Storyteller. Charlie the Diabetic. Charlie the Hopeless with Maintaining Basic Routines (that one is maybe a little unwieldy for daily usage). Charlie the Inept.
Epithets were both boasts and pejoratives, an elevation of character and a verbal jab at weaknesses. And I’m not so sure of myself that I’d be certain my epithet would necessarily be a positive one. I’m sure everyone thinks about their legacy and how they’ll be remembered when they’re gone. I’m not unique in that respect (or, possibly, any other respect. But that could be the depression talking). How would those who knew me best remember me? How would my students or coworkers remember me? Or my readers? It’s a frustrating question to ask, because there’s no one right answer to it and no way for me to know before I’m gone. I hope – as do most people, I’m sure – that I’ve left a positive impression in my time on earth. Or any impression. Being forgotten seems more than a little sad to me.
What would your epithet be?