Saturday, 4 August 2012

Dies irae!

A friend of mine is an amateur soprano in various choirs and whenever she performs, I attend the concert. I am so to say her groupie. As these choirs perform classical music, they often have in their concerts ecclesiastical music. Apart from listening, I also look through the translation of the Latin lyrics in the programme booklet. Often these texts are more adaptations of the Latin than real translations. Anyway, my favourite  is a Requiem, the mass for the deceased. Of course the version by Mozart is by far the most welknown, but dozens of other composers have put the text to music. It is called Requiem, because the introitus – the opening verse – starts with Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. `Give eternal rest to them, O Lord.’.  The main body of the text however is a mediaeval poem, attributed to Thomas of Celano (1200-1265), a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. It became widely popular and was soon incorporated in the funeral mass.  One doesnt need to be Christian to appreciate the simple, but powerful structure of the text. Well, listen to some Requiem and read the Latin. It is not difficult. As day of wrath still has to come, you will meet a lot of future tenses!
For more information and  2 English translation of the Dies irae:

Dies iræ! dies illa
solvet sæclum in favilla
teste David cum Sibylla!

saeclum:   world, universe
favilla, ae:  hot cinders or ashes
David: Hebrew names or often not declined in Latin. For the testimony see Psalm  101:27 `ipsi (coeli) peribunt’
Sybilla stands for the 12 Sybills of the Sybille Oracles, a collection of Jewish/Christian oracles of the first centuries AD in which

Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!

stricte: severely, meticously
discutio: to investigate

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulchra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.

regionum: i.e. all regions of the world

Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.

stupeo: to become stupified

Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.

scriptus: Revelation 20:12:

Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.

lateo: to be hidden
inultus: unrevenged

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?

patronus: a patron was in Roman society someone who protected a client in retutrn for the client’s vote at elections, so: a protector.
vix: hardly

Rex tremendæ majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me, fons pietatis.

qui: you who
gratis: out of free will

Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
ne me perdas illa die.

recordo: to remember (in Classical Latin the deponens recordor is used)
via: the way life and suffering
perdo: destroy

Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti Crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.

quaero: to seek
lassus: tired
Quaerens me, sedisti passus: the whole phrase is an allusion to John 4:6:
In the pericope John 4: 1-42 Jesus reveals himself to a Samaritan woman as the Messias. The poet indentifies himself here with the Samaritan woman.
cassus: fruitless

Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.

ultio, -onis: revenge
remissio –onis: forgiveness of sin
ratio- onis: reckoning

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce, Deus.

ingemisco: to groan
reus: guilty
culpa: abl!
parco + dat: to spare

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti

Maria: Maria Magdalena
latro, -onis: thief, robber. The reference is to the thief hanging next to Jesus at the cross.

Preces meæ non sunt dignæ:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.

prex, precis: prayer
cremo: burn

Inter oves locum præsta,
et ab hædis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

ovis, ovis: sheep
praesto: to give
haedus: goat
sequastro: separate
statuo: to set, place (object: me)The whole stanza is an allusion to Matth.25: 31 - 34

Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis:
voca me cum benedictis.

confutatis…addictis: abl. abs.
confuto: to destroy
maledictus: cursed
acer, acri: sharp
addictus: consecrated, given over

Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.

supplex, -icis:  kneeling
acclinis: bowing
contritus: crumbled
cinis, cinis: ash
gere curam: + gen. take care for

The poem appears complete as it stands at this point. Some scholars question whether the remainder is an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use, for the last stanzas discard the consistent scheme of triple rhymes in favor of rhymed couplets, while the last two lines abandon rhyme for assonance and are, moreover, catalectic:

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.


  1. A very enjoyable read!! Thank you for such interesting posts.


    Apocalypseos vegesimum caput, anglice et latine

    versus 12: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing in the presence of the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

    Et vidi mortuos, magnos et pusillos, stantes in conspectu throni, et libri aperti sunt: et alius liber apertus est, qui est vitae: et judicati sunt mortui ex his, quae scripta erant in libris, secundum opera ipsorum:

    Euangelii Sancti Ioannis caput quartum

    versus sextus:

    Now Jacob' s well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour.

    Erat autem ibi fons Jacob. Jesus ergo fatigatus ex itinere, sedebat sic supra fontem. Hora erat quasi sexta.

    Et Secundum Sanctum Mattheum, caput vigesimum quintum

    [31] And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty.

    Cum autem venerit Filius hominis in majestate sua, et omnes angeli cum eo, tunc sedebit super sedem majestatis suae:

    [32] And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats:

    Et congregabuntur ante eum omnes gentes, et separabit eos ab invicem, sicut pastor segregat oves ab haedis:

    [33] And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.

    Et statuet oves quidem a dextris suis, haedos autem a sinistris.

    [34] Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

    Tunc dicet rex his qui a dextris ejus erunt: Venite benedicti Patris mei, possidete paratum vobis regnum a constitutione mundi:

  3. sit uenia, uigesimum caput, non uegesimum dicere uolui!