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How should I translate the following sentence (letter ca 1892 from the Norwegian Professor of Philosophy Marcus Jacob Monrad to Oberamtsrichter Hugo Sommer in Blankenburg a/Harz):

Ich, der ich ein alter Mann und am Ort von Petrefact bin, habe meine Wurzeln so tief zurück als in der hegelschen Logik.

Petrefact (petrifact) refers to an object of stone, but what does "und am Ort von Petrefact" refer to?

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A Petrefakt means in German (different to English) Versteinerung, thus a Fossil.

That seems to be what Monrad means to say - He's as old as a fossil.

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  • Thank you. What additional meaning does "am Ort" represent? Just "örtlich"/"at [this] place"?
    – Helge
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 16:48
  • Well, it literally says, "this is the place where I am" - A contemporary native speaker very probably wouldn't have said that, he surely wouldn't do today. Is there maybe a Norwegian expression he might have leaned upon?
    – tofro
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 18:54
  • Helge asked his question in English. Why did you answer it in German? Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 22:18
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    Im Deutschen heißt es tatsächlich "Petrefakt".
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 23:35
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Are you sure it's »von Petrefakt«? Isn't it »vom Petrefakt«?

In German and English (and in all other languages I know) you can contract sentences by omitting parts that otherwise would appear twice.

I use a shorter sentence to explain what I mean:

Ich, der ich ein alter Mann und in der Stadt bin, trinke Wasser.
I, who I am an old man and in the city, drink water.

The full version would be:

Ich, der ich ein alter Mann bin und der ich in der Stadt bin, trinke Wasser.
I, who I am an old man and who I am in the city, drink water.

So there are two relative clauses in this sentence, joined together with the word »und«. And both of them describe the same subject, and both relative clauses contain the same words »der ich bin« (»who I am«). And you can omit them in both languages.

So, the original relative clauses would be:

Ich, der ich ein alter Mann bin und der ich am Ort vom Petrefact bin, ...
I, who I am an old man and who I am at the place of the fossil, ...

So here is the translation of the shortened version:

Ich, der ich ein alter Mann und am Ort vom Petrefact bin, ...
I, who I am an old man and at the place of the fossil, ...

But this sentence uses an outdated version of German. I guess it already was outdated in 1892 when Monrad wrote this letter. (In those times many people tried to expose there high level of humanistic education by using an exalted and old-fashioned language nobody ever used "in real life". For the same reason they also used as many latin and greek foreign words as they could. Texts written by 19th century philosophers are a horrible resource to learn German.)

The whole sentence in correct modern German looks like this:

Ich, der ich ein alter Mann und am Ort des Fossils bin, habe Wurzeln, die weit in die hegelsche Logik zurückreichen.
I, who I am an old man and at the place of the fossil, have roots that go far back into Hegelian logic.

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