"absent in mind, distracted from present reality by intellectual activity," 1640s, past-participle adjective from abstract (v.). Related: Abstractedly.
An absent man is one whose mind wanders unconsciously from his immediate surroundings, or from the topic which demands his attention; he may be thinking of little or nothing. An abstracted man is kept from what is present by thoughts and feelings so weighty or interesting that they engross his attention. [Century Dictionary]
some printed Latin text (usually Psalms li.1) "set by the ordinary of a prison before a malefactor claiming benefit of clergy, in order to test his ability to read. If the ordinary or his deputy said legit ut clericus (he reads like a clerk or scholar), the malefactor was burned in the hand and set free, thus saving his neck" [Century Dictionary]. See neck (n.) + verse (n.).
"to tease or torment by presenting something desirable to the view, and frustrating expectation by keeping it out of reach," 1590s, with -ize + Latin Tantalus, from Greek Tantalos, name of a mythical king of Phrygia in Asia Minor, son of Zeus, father of Pelops and Niobe, famous for his riches, punished in the afterlife (for an offense variously given) by being made to stand in a river up to his chin, under branches laden with fruit, all of which withdrew from his reach whenever he tried to eat or drink. His story was known to Chaucer (c. 1369). Related: Tantalized; tantalizing; tantalizingly; tantalization.
Roman emperor 54-68 C.E., born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, noted in history for his tyrannical and cruel disposition and moral depravity, the fire in 64 which destroyed much of Rome and which he was accused of setting, and his persecution of Christians. Related: Neronian; Neronic.
"to joust," 1590s, from tilt (n.1). Related: Tilted; tilting. The figurative sense of tilting at windmills is suggested in English by 1798; the image is from Don Quixote, who mistook them for giants.
So saying, and heartily recommending himself to his lady Dulcinea, whom he implored to succour him in this emergency, bracing on his target, and setting his lance in the rest, he put his Rozinante to full speed, and assaulting the nearest windmill, thrust it into one of the sails, which was drove about by the wind with so much fury, that the lance was shivered to pieces, and both knight and steed whirled aloft, and overthrown in very bad plight upon the plain. [Smollett translation, 1755]