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Question about prisms (well, some deductive work included, Holmes :) )

Discussion in 'Science & Technology' started by Kyriakos, Oct 25, 2017.

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  1. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Moving on to another story:


    "

    Extending forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it, was a gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly of pure crystal and in shape a perfect prism,- it reflected in the most gorgeous manner the rays of the declining sun.

    "

    I am translating a few stories by E.A.Poe, and the above passage is in one of them (The Sphinx). I am thinking about what to write in the footnote, about the description.

    The point of contention is that i am not sure if i should note that the prism would likely be made with a regular polygon of at least 5 sides as its basis; ie it wouldn't be triangular or square. Given that Poe mentions the term "staff". I want to ask (see, this is also a literary question) if the term 'staff' would reasonably allow for such an inference on my part :)

    The story is -on the surface - about the description of some vast monster. In the end it was

    Spoiler :

    a bug. Story is, in essence, about impressions, and state of mind. :)
     
  2. Michkov

    Michkov Chieftain

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    A bit more context would be good, but there is nothing that says a prism has to be 3 sided. Any extruded n-sided polygon is a prism.
     
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  3. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    A main issue with the piece -and probably this is either a mistake in terminology by Poe, or some non-jargon tautology at the time between 'perfect prism' (not a math term) and 'regular prism' (connoting one made from the extending shape of a regular polygon).

    In the OT thread i also asked, the view generally was that Poe would mean some approximation of a cylinder (cause he also describes it as a 'staff'), but not actually a cylinder, cause it would have distinct surfaces (thus allowing for a light reflection effect of some distinctness). :)

    I personally infer (not with certainty) that the prism would have 5 or more sides, so that it can somewhat approximate a staff of that kind.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2017
  4. Michkov

    Michkov Chieftain

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    That seems a good inference, I'd go with more than 5 sides. Enough to appear round but still with faces at closer inspection. That way you have both staff and prism characteristics.
     
  5. uppi

    uppi Chieftain

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    I don't think the inference is solid. It is unclear to me what exactly is meant by the description, but from "staff" I would only infer something that has a high aspect ratio, when comparing the height with the size of the base. I would not necessarily infer that it has to be something round, so a triangular base would fit the description to me.

    I am not even sure, whether the term prism is the mathematics or physics term here. In physics, a prism transmits (and to a lesser degree, reflects) light of different frequencies differently. The last part makes me think that these optical properties are implied. So, I would consider any (geometrical) prisms with a rectangular (or a regular octagon and so on) base to not fit the description. In general, more faces mean more options for interesting reflections, which does support the notion of more than three faces.

    In any case, if the goal is a translation, I would not add a note here. I would use notes to mark terms that have a clear meaning in the source language, which cannot conveyed in the target language. In a case like this, where the exact shape seems to be up to the interpretation of the reader, I would let the readers of the translation make that interpretation instead of pointing them to a specific interpretation.
     
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  6. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    ^Yes, there is a fine line between showing off and walking into an own goal, so i will more than likely just not do the footnote thing there.
     
  7. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    @uppi, even so, though, Poe himself writes "and in shape a perfect prism" so it does seem more likely that either at the time it was commonplace to use 'perfect' (for non-mathematicians, i suppose) as a synonym of 'regular', or he is just making a mistake, while meaning 'regular' anyway. It seems less likely that he focuses on the physical properties of a prism in that part of the sentence itself, despite light reflection probably being the main issue overall.
     
  8. uppi

    uppi Chieftain

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    You may be right, but does that help us here? A triangular prism can be a regular prism as well.

    I agree that a prism should be regular so that it can be called perfect, but I would also add that it should be a right prism. The "most perfect" prism in my view would be a uniform prism, but that contradicts the "staff" description.
     
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  9. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Yes, i think, though (as noted many times) that neither a triangular nor a rectangular/square prism would likely "reflect in the most gorgeous manner" the sunrays (at least if we take it to mean that it reflected them a bit like diamonds - although those reflect due to different symmetry anyway...). Depends on what 'gorgeous manner' means, but i took it to mean the effect was impressive, and i am not sure a triangular or square prism would produce such an effect; maybe a hexagonal or larger polygonal one would...

    It doesn't help that the actual moth he is seeing has antennae which aren't really shaped like a prism (they are twisted, for starters). And if they were... they look to be either pentagonal-based or square or (even) triangular...:

     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2017

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