Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sulpicius Severus, How Saint Martin cut down a sacred tree...

There are some reasons for me to pay attention to Saint Martin. First of all the main church of the city where I live – Groningen – is dedicated to this saint. It is visible from far outside the city and for students living here the point of orientation when deep in the night lost in some outer part of Groningen. Secondly, Saint Martin’s day is approaching: 11 November. At around 5 in the afternoon children are going with lampoons from door to door, sing a song about Saint Martin and get some candy in return. Apparently I live in a part of the city where reproduction has dramatically dropped: the last 6 years the number of children at my door varied between one and zero, leaving me with a bag full of candies. And no I am not a candy eater, but some female friends are and they had no problems with helping me to get rid of the stuff….
Saint Martin (316-397) was born in Pannonia, current Hungary. His father was a senior cavalry officer in the Roman army. At 10 he went to the church, against the will of his parents, who were not Christians. Initially he was destined to follow the career of his father and so at the age of 15 he joined the Roman cavalry. He was stationed at Gaul, when at the age of 18 he got a mystical experience: he met a beggar asking for some clothing and Saint Martin cut his army cloak in two and gave one part to the poor man. That night he got a dream in which Jesus appeared, urging him to be baptized.  And indeed, he became now a baptized Christian and being convinced that the life of the military is incompatible with being a Christian, he left the army. From that moment he worked for the church. He was mainly working in Gaul, spreading Christianity there and in 371 He was elected bishop of Tours. Apart from building churches he also propagated monastic life and founded monasteries in Gaul. Already during his lifetime he was very famous and seen as a miracle worker. A follower of him, Sulpicius Severus, of whom little is known, not even the dates of his birth and death, wrote after the death of Saint Martin a biography about him, or rather a hagiography, the Vita Sancti Martini. Martin was the first to be called a saint without dying as a martyr. It is the earliest example of a hagiography and thus set the pattern for later hagiographies. The Latin is remarkably good for that period.
Saint Martin is the patron saint of soldiers, a bit strange for someone with conscience objections.
In Chapter 13 Sulpicius describes how Saint Martin wants to destroy a sacred tree at some village. This was not an unusual practice: in 754 Bonifatius tried to do the same at Dokkum, a Frisian place not fat away from here, but he was less lucky than Saint Martin and the Frisians killed him!
13 (1) Item, cum in vico quodam templum antiquissimum diruisset et arborem pinum, quae fano erat proxima, esset aggressus excidere, tum vero antistes loci illius ceteraque gentilium turba coepit obsistere. (2) et cum idem illi, dum templum evertitur, imperante Domino quievissent, succidi arborem non patiebantur. ille eos sedulo commonere, nihil esse religionis in stipite: Deum potius, cui serviret ipse, sequerentur: arborem illam succidi oportere, quia esset daemoni dedicata. (3) tum unus ex illis qui erat audacior ceteris: si habes, inquit, aliquam de Deo tuo, quem dicis te colere, fiduciam, nosmet ipsi succidemus hanc arborem, tu ruentem excipe: et si tecum est tuus, ut dicis, Dominus, evades. (4) tum ille intrepide confisus in Domino facturum se pollicetur. hic vero ad istius modi condicionem omnis illa gentilium turba consensit, facilemque arboris suae habuere iacturam, si inimicum sacrorum suorum casu illius obruissent. (5) itaque cum unam in partem pinus illa esset acclinis, ut non esset dubium, quam in partem succisa corrueret, eo loci vinctus statuitur pro arbitrio rusticorum, quo arborem esse casuram nemo dubitabat. (6) succidere igitur ipsi suam pinum cum ingenti gaudio laetitiaque coeperunt. aderat eminus turba mirantium. iamque paulatim nutare pinus et ruinam suam casura minitari. (7) pallebant eminus monachi et periculo iam propiore conterriti spem omnem fidemque perdiderant, solam Martini mortem exspectantes. (8) at ille confisus in Domino intrepidus opperiens, cum iam fragorem sui pinus concidens edidisset, iam cadenti, iam super se ruenti, elevata obviam manu, signum salutis opponit. tum vero - velut turbinis modo retro actam putares - diversam in partem ruit, adeo ut rusticos, qui toto in loco steterant, paene prostraverit. (9) tum vero in caelum clamore sublato gentiles stupere miraculo, monachi flere prae gaudio, Christi nomen in commune ab omnibus praedicari: satisque constitit eo die salutem illi venisse regioni. nam nemo fere ex immani illa multitudine gentilium fuit, qui non impositione manus desiderata Dominum Iesum, relicto impietatis errore, crediderit. et vere ante Martinum pauci admodum, immo paene nulli in illis regionibus Christi nomen receperant: quod adeo virtutibus illius exemploque convaluit, ut iam ibi nullus locus sit, qui non aut ecclesiis frequentissimis aut monasteriis sit repletus. nam ubi fana destruxerat, statim ibi aut ecclesias aut monasteria construebat.

item: in the same way. In later Latin item is often used to introduce a new topic.
vicum: village
diruo (3) destroy, demolish
pinus:  pine-tree, fir (arborem is a bit superfluous). pinus is feminine, because arbor is femine, see at 5 pinus illa.
fanum = templum
aggredi, agressi sum: to approach
excido (3): to cut down
antistes, -itis: priest
gentilis: `belonging to a clan’, but here it is used as noun
turba: crowd
coepio: to begin
everto: to turn upside down
imperante Domino: it is more likely that this was a Roman temple with no religious significance for the Cetls, provided there is some truth in this episode.
quiesco, -evi: to be quiet
succido (3): to cut down
patior: to endure
sedulo: eagerly, zealously
commoneo: to put in mind commonere is a historic infinitive, to be translated as a main verb. Also nutare and minitari at 6, stupere, flere and praedicari at 9. The historic infinitive is known to everybody who has struggled with Livy. It is used to make a story more lively. Compare a live report of a football match: Manchester coming forward.  X passing the ball to y and GOAL!!!!
nihil + gen.
stipes, stipites, m.: trunk
oportet: it is proper. It occurs only as an impersonal verb
audax: courageous
colo (3): to worship
fiducia: trust
nosmet is a strengthened nos.
ruo (3) to fall. The English to ruin comes from the noun ruina `a falling, crushing down’ which has the same root ru as ruo.
excipit: i.e. on his body.
intrepide : unshakably. In 8 the adjective intrepidus is used, where in English the adverb is required
confido  - confisus sum: to trust on, believe in
polliceor: to promise
hic: then
istius modi condicionem: litt. `on the condition of that way’ = on that condition
facilemque arboris suae habuere iacturam; `taking the loss of their tree easy
inimicus: enemy
casus, -us: fall
obruo: to destroy
acclinis: hanging over
casurus: fut. participle  of cado (3) : to fall
vincio – vinxi  - vinctus: to bind
statuo (3): to set
arbitium: judgement
rusticus: a person living in the countryside (rus), hence: heathen. This word is derived from heath and so has undergone the same semantic development
ingens, -entis: great
eminus (adv.): at a distance
paulatim: slowly
nuto: waver, to be ready to fall
ruinam suam probably for ruinam eius: the tree was not threatening its own destruction but that of St. Martin, but the translation takes it  - with some hesitation – as it stands and referring to the tree.
minitor: to threaten
palleo: to turn pale
periculo propiore: by very the imminent danger
conterritus: frightened
solam mortem: solam must be translated as an adverb: solely
opperior: to wait, attend
fragor,- oris, (m): a crashing noise
obviam (adv.): against
signum salutis: The sing of the cross: he stretches one hand towards falling tree while with his other making the sign of the cross.
oppono + dat.
velut turbinis modo retro actam putares:  you would think as led by way of a whirlwind  (it turned) back. Note how whole section 8 gives a lively description
paene: almost  
prosterno- prostravi – prostratus: to throw to the ground
clamor (m): cry, loud noise
suffero –sustuli –sublatum: to take up, carry
caelum clamore sublato: standard expression in Latin, but here significant because of the Christian context.
stupeo + dat.: to be stupefied about
praedico: to proclaim
satisque constitit: it has been sufficiently ascertained
fere: almost
immanis: immense
qui non impositione manus desiderata Dominum Iesum, relicto impietatis errore, crediderit. non with crediderit. The imposition of the hand by a priest means that one is allowed to become a catechumenen, the first stage of becoming a member of the church.
paucus: few
admodum: only
immo paene: nay, almost
quod =  Christi nomen
adeo: to such extent
convalescoconvalui: to grow strong
frequens, -entis:  crowded
repletus: filled
statim: immediately



Saturday, 20 October 2012

Boethius, De Consolatione, book 1 poem 5: facing an unjust death penalty

In my post on Jordanes I mentioned Theodoric the Great (451-526), the Gothic emperor of the Italy. He was a successful ruler, praised for his cleverness and his support of  Roman culture, but there is one very black stain on his life: he was responsible for the death of the philosopher Boethius (480-524 or 525). Boethius was of high Roman descent with good connections with the Roman upper-class. He was a Platonist with a great knowledge of the logic of Aristotle. He wrote various treatises on logic and music and though a layman, he was also asked to write treatises on various aspects of the Christian faith, especially on such difficult topics as the Trinity, because of his deep knowledge of logic. He held a high position at the court of Theodoric, but in 523 he accused of having a treacherous correspondence with Justian 1, emperor of the Eastern Roman empire with whom  Theodoric had bad relations.  Boethius disputed the charge, but was not believed and was put into prison. It was under such circumstances that he wrote his De consolatione Philosophiae , The consolation of Philosophy. It would become one of the most wide read texts of the Middle Ages, being translated in various languages such as Old High German and Anglo-Saxon. The latter translation was made by Alfred the Great (849-899), king and scholar, in order to introduce his people into philosophy..
What is remarkable about this work is that – facing death – Boethius seeks consolation in philosophy, not in Christian faith. It is possible of course that philosophy is an allegory for Christianity and indeed since it was published, or rather copied, readers have sought all kind of allusions to Christianity.
There are, but living in a Christian culture and Christianity being explained within the concepts of Neo-Platonism , this is not surprising. Somehow I have the feeling that Boethius turned away from Christianity or maybe he was more platonic than Christian all his life and with his execution imminent, he sought consolation with his true love…
Boethius was executed and according to one version a rope was attached round his head and tightened till his eyes bulged out, but this seems to me more belonging to hagiography, than to historical truth, but you never know.
The De consolatione  Philosophiae consists of both prose and poetry, a form known as the mennipean satire. Don’t misunderstand here the word satire: it comes from Latin satura, dish with various ingredients offerd to the gods and hence a literary work with both prose and poetry. The modern word `satire' comes from Greek Satyr,                                                                          
In the beginning Boethius complains about his situation, but then a woman appears to him, at one moment a normal woman, but at the other of infinite height with her head reaching the stars. He recognizes her as Philosophia and she tells him that he has always been a faithful pupil and she will not let him down in these moments of distress and misery. Ah yes, but what does it help me that I am innocently imprisoned and waiting for my execution? And Boethius starts complaining about the injustice in the world. He addresses the maker of the universe accusing him of having made laws for everything, but not for human behavior:

O stelliferi conditor orbis,
qui perpetuo nixus solio
rapido caelum turbine uersas
legemque pati sidera cogis,              5
ut nunc pleno lucida cornu
totis fratris obuia flammis
condat stellas luna minores,
nunc obscuro pallida cornu
Phoebo propior lumina perdat                  10
et qui primae tempore noctis
agit algentes Hesperos ortus
solitas iterum mutet habenas
Phoebi pallens Lucifer ortu.
Tu frondifluae frigore brumae                   15
stringis lucem breviore mora,
tu cum fervida uenerit aestas
agiles nocti dividis horas.
Tua vis varium temperat annum,
ut quas Boreae spiritus aufert
revehat mites Zephyrus frondes,      20
quaeque Arcturus semina vidit
sirius altas urat segetes:
nihil antiqua lege solutum
linquit propriae stationis opus.
Omnia certo fine gubernans,            25
hominum solos respuis actus
merito rector cohibere modo.
Nam cur tantas lubrica uersat
Fortuna uices? Premit insontes
debita sceleri noxia poena,               30
at peruersi resident celso
mores solio sanctaque calcant
iniusta vice colla nocentes .
Latet obscuris condita virtus
clara tenebris iustusque tulit            35
crimen iniqui.
Nil periuria, nil nocet ipsis
fraus mendaci compta colore.
Sed cum libuit viribus uti,
quos innumeri metuunt populi                  40
summos gaudent subdere reges.
O iam miseras respice terras,
quisquis rerum foedera nectis!
Operis tanti pars non vilis
homines quatimur fortunae salo.     45
Rapidos, rector, comprime fluctus
et quo caelum regis immemsum
Firma stabiles foedere terras.

The poem is in anapestic dimeters, but let’s not worry about that.

stellifer, - feri: star-bearing, starry
conditor:  this word does not necessarily refer to the Christian god
orbis, orbis: circle
nitor, nixus sum: here: to rest
solium: throne
turbo, turbinis: whirl
verso (1): keep turning
patior,  passus sum: undergo, endure
pleno lucida (luna r.8) cornu: the shining (moon) with full horn (i.e. with full crescent)
obvius: exposed
fratris: the Sun. In Latin the sun is masculine, whereas in Germanic languages it is feminine (German: die Sonne) and the moon is masculine (German: der Mond).  Latin sol, English sun, Greek helios, Sanskrit svar all go back to the same Indo-European root *séh2u-l with originally a root n in the oblique cases. This explains the variance between sol and sun. In Sanskrit l and r are interchangeable in some cases, so therefore svar. The complexity of this word indicates that it belongs to the earliest strata of Indo-European. The difference in grammatical gender between Germanic and the other languages is unexplained.
condo (3): to hide
nunc obscuro pallida cornu Phoebo propior lumina perdat  =  nunc (luna),  Phoebo propior, obscuro cornu pallida lumina perdat
Phoebus: the sun. Originally an epithet for Apollo, who was from the 4th century BC regarded as the sungod.
propior + dat.: closer to
obscuro cornu: with dark crescent
pallidus: bleak
perdo (3): to lose
et qui…Hesperos = et Hesperos, qui. Hesperos is Venus as Eveningstar and is a Greek nominative.
agit algentes ortus: brings cooling risings = who brings coldness, when she rises.
Solitas iterum mutet habenas: The idea is that Venus as Morningstar halts her car (mutet habenas: brings her reins to silence. The conjunctive is because it is still dependent on ut in line 5) when the sun arises. Solitas (usual) and iterum emphasizes that this is all in tune with the laws of the Conditor.
frondifluae frigore brumae: wintertime
frondifluus: leaf-falling
frigor, -oris: cold
bruma: the shortest day
stringo: draw tight, compress
breviore mora: into a very short interval  (mora: lapse of time, interval)
fervidus: glowing, burning
venerit: conjuntive of the perfect where classical Latin uses the conjunctive of the imperfect.
aestas, -atis: summer
agilis; quick, agile
vis, viris: power
varius: changing
tempero (1):  to regulate, arrange
ut quas Boreae spiritus aufert revehat mites Zephyrus frondes = ut frondes, quas Boreae spiritus aufert, mites Zephyrus revehat
Boreas, Boreae: the northern wind
spiritus, -us: breath, air
aufero (3): to take away
reveho (3): bring back
mites, is: soft
Zephyrus: a gentle west wind, western breeze, zephyr
quaeque Arcturus semina vidit =  et semina, quae Arcturus vidit
Arcturus: The brightest star in Bootes,, whose rising and setting was supposed to portend tempestuous weather.
semen, seminis: seed
Sirius: the Dog star
uro (3): to burn
seges, segitis (f): corn, crop
nihil antiqua lege solutum linquit propriae stationis opus. (asyndeton)  = nihil antiqua lege solutum (est et) (re)linquit propriae stationis opus.
solutus + abl.: free from
linquit propriae stationis opus: and leaves the work of it proper position (i.e. the work it is ordered to do)
finis, -s (f): limit, boundary
solos… actus: solos is predicate: the acts of mankind as the only.
respuo (3): to dislike
merito: justly
rector: predicate:  as ruler
cohibeo: to confine, contain
lubricus: slippery
vicis, -is: change, alternation
Premit insontes debita sceleri noxia poena =  noxia poena debita sceleri insontes premit
poena: punishment
insons, -ontis: innocent
debita sceleri: which ought to be given to a wicked deed (scelus, sceleris (n))
perversi with mores
celsus: high
calco (1): trample, tread on
vice: instead of
collum: the neck
nocens, -entis: wicked (noceo: to hurt)
Latet obscuris condita virtus clara tenebris = virtus clara (in) obscuris tenebris latet
lateo: to lie hidden
tenebrae. -arum: darkness, gloom
tulit: fero ferre tuli latum: to bear, carry
iniquus: wicked, evil (person)
periurium: false oath
noceo + dat.: to hurt
fraus, fraudis (f): fraud
mendax, -acis: cheatful (with colore, adjectives with a consonant  stem have the ablative  in i, though e is also possible.)
comptus: adorned
libet, libuit: it pleases
utor + abl.: to make use of
metuo (3): to fear
subdo (3): to subdue
respicio: to look down
quisquis, not qui: whoever that god might be.
rerum: genitivus obiectivus: for the world. Res has her the meaning `material world’, cf. De Rerum Naturae
foedus, foederis (n): treaty, but here more or less equivalent with lex. Also in line 48.
necto (3):  bind, fasten
Operis tanti pars non vilis is apposition to homines: we human beings, not the meanest part of such a creation, etc.
quatio: shake, break, crush
salum: open sea
comprimo (3): press together, restrain
fluctus, -us: wave, tide
quo: where, in what place
regis: verb!
firmo, to make firm, strengthen
stabiles: resultative adjective: in order that the world is stabile ..

In a school edition I have from the German catholic publishing house Aschendorff, the editor  wants to see in the last two lines a rephrasing of fiat voluntas tau, sicut in caelo et in terra from the Lord’s prayer, but I am not so sure…

In one of the next posts I will give Philosophia’s answer.