Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Walter of Châtillon: On the murder of Thomas Becket.


When in 1170, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered at the instigation of King Henry II, the whole Western world was shocked. Initially both were close friends, but as the dispute between Rome and the kings of Europe about the ultimate authority heightened, Becket chose in 1164 the side of the Pope. Becket fled to France There was a kind of reconciliation in the summer of 1170 and Becket was allowed to return to Canterbury, but King Henry refused to give Becket a kiss as a sign of peace (stanza 2, 3-4). The dispute about authority was still not settled and kept lingering. "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?", is King henry reported to have said. Four knights took this as an order and in the evening of December 29 they forced themselves into Canterbury Cathedral and slew Becket in from of the altar.
Note: this is the very short version of this event.
The French poet Walter of Châtillon (1135 – 1190 or 1201) was furious and wrote this poem.


Orba suo pontifice
tristatur Cantuaria.
O monstrum gentis Anglicae
scribendum in historia,
quod stantem pro iustitia,
quod viventem canonice,
martyrizavit publice
tyranni violentia!
      O regio
digna res epitaphio!

orbus: bereaved
tristor: to mourn
monstrum: evil deed
quod: because
stantem, viventem: Becket
canonice: according to the rules of the Church
O regio etc: i.e. for defaming the royal epitaph of Henry II. Digna res is of course ironic.

Haec levis excusatio
quae praetendit ad populum :
`Dum osculum refugio,
quod pacis est signaculum,
proditionis iaculum
nequaquam’, inquit, `iacio’,
ac si non sit proditio,
quod non praecessit osculum!
O regio etc.

excusatio –ionis (f.) : excuse
dum = cum: because
osculum: kiss
proditio  -onis (f.): betrayal
iaculum: javelin
nequaquam: not at all
ac si non: and if it is not
praecedo –cessi –cessum: to precede

O quanto dignus fulmine
vel qua Megaera creditur!
Infausto natus omine,
cui scelus obicitur,
rex abusive dicitur
qui totus est in sanguine ;
sic emutato nomine
rex in tyrannum vertitur.
O regio etc.

O quanto: O how much
qua Megaera: of some Megaera (one of the Furies)
infaustus: unlucky
cui scelus obicitur: who is reproached for (such a) crime
abusive: wrongly
emutato nomine: the name being altered

In tota regum serie
quos habuit Brittania
ab antiqua barbarie
quae processit a Phrygia
pollutus hac infamia
numquam fuit rex Angliae,
in isto tribus regiae
degloriavit gloria.
O regio etc.

barbaries = barbaria
a Phrygia:  according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Brutus, cousin of Aeneas, was the first king of Britain (Phrygia is modern Turkey)
pullutus rex
in isto (rege)
tribus –us (f.): tribe, lineage
gloria: abl.

Vittae imbelles gerere
licebat priscis vatibus
et bellis non intendere
sacris sacratos usibus;
sed nunc moris est regibus
in pace pacem solvere
et suis pontificibus
Parcarum fila rumpere.
O regio etc.

vitta: headband
gero gessi gestum: to wear
priscus: of old
licebat…vatibus et sacratos plus an acc. cum inf. with sacratos (priests, clergymen) as acc. and sacris usibus as adverbial phrase (according to sacred customs). These two different constructions are for reasons of rhythm and rime.
intendo intendi intentum: to strive for (mostly constructed with acc, but here with dat.)
moris est: it is of practice  = it is practice
pacem solvere: to dissolve peace
Parcarum fila: the threads of the Parcae, the goddesses of fate
rumpo rupi ruptum: to break

 Afbeeldingsresultaat voor murder becket