Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Boethius Consolatione 4.P6: there is no bad luck.

When I posted Boethius’ poem `O, stelliferi conditor orbis’ I promised to publish Fortuna’s answer. Here it is: it has the same metre (acatalectic anapaestic dimeter, but don’t worry), the same number of lines and the same subject: it is an antiphon to the first poem. Whereas Boethius burst out into complains at the end of his poem, asking the maker of the universe why, if the universe is so orderly arranged, it is a mess on Earth, Philosphia comes to a different conclusion: as the universe is perfect and has love as its guiding force, so life is perfect too, as she explains in the prose section following this poem. There is no bad fortune: it either serves to reward or exercise good men or to punish or improve bad men.
Remember, this poem was not written at leisure at some desk by a philosopher playing with his ideas, but by a man waiting to be executed…

si uis celsi iura Tonantis
pura sollers cernere mente,
aspice summi culmina caeli;
illic iusto foedere rerum
ueterem seruant sidera pacem.          5
non sol rutilo concitus igne
gelidum Phoebes impedit axem
nec quae summo uertice mundi
flectit rapidos Ursa meatus
numquam occiduo lota profundo      10
cetera cernens sidera mergi
cupit Oceano tinguere flammas;
semper uicibus temporis aequis
Vesper seras nuntiat umbras
reuehitque diem Lucifer almum.      15
sic aeternos reficit cursus
alternus amor, sic astrigeris
bellum discors exsulat oris.
haec concordia temperat aequis
elementa modis, ut pugnantia                       20
uicibus cedant humida siccis
iungantque fidem frigora flammis,
pendulus ignis surgat in altum
terraeque graues pondere sidant.
his de causis uere tepenti                  25
spirat florifer annus odores,
aestas cererem feruida siccat,
remeat pomis grauis autumnus,
hiemem defluus inrigat imber.
haec temperies alit ac profert                       30
quicquid uitam spirat in orbe;
eadem rapiens condit et aufert
obitu mergens orta supremo.
sedet interea conditor altus
rerumque regens flectit habenas,      35
rex et dominus, fons et origo,
lex et sapiens arbiter aequi,
et quae motu concitat ire
sistit retrahens ac uaga firmat;
nam nisi rectos reuocans itus                        40
flexos iterum cogat in orbes,
quae nunc stabilis continet ordo
dissaepta suo fonte fatiscant.
hic est cunctis communis amor
repetuntque boni fine teneri,             45
quia non aliter durare queant
nisi conuerso rursus amore
refluant causae quae dedit esse.

celsus: high
Tonans: Jupiter
pura mente
sollers: skilful, clever. Predicate by vis: if you, who are sollers, want etc.
cerno crevi cretum: perceive, see
culmen, inis (n): top, summit
illic: there
foedus, foederis (n): contract, agreement
iusto foedere…veterem pacem: these words imply that universe is essentially good, like the Romans made treaties with other peoples to secure peace.
rutilus: red
rutilo igne: Mars. The course of this planet is above the sun and so the idea was that this planet urges the sun. Not all translators agree, for instance the one I have copied below, on this and translate: `the sun with its ruddy fire’ or something like.
concitus: roused (from concio). i.e in the morning
gelidus: cold
Phoebes: Greek genitive. Phoebe is the moon.
axis, axis (m): axis, fixed point of rotation, but here also used of the rotation itself.
nec quae summo uertice mundi flectit rapidos Ursa meatus = nec Ursa, quae summo uertice mundi flectit rapidos meatus, etc
nec with cupit
vertex, verticis (m): highest top
summo uertice mundi: the Pole star. The ablative is here used as a locative: at,
Ursa: the Great Bear
meatus, – us (m): course, motion
(in) occiduo profundo: the Great Bear never goes down in the western ocean, nor anywhere else for that matter.
lota ppp of lavo: to wash. This verb has 3 ppp’s: lavatum, lautum and lotum.
mergo mersi  mersum: to sink, immerse
lota and mergi the passive forms are used as the stars do not follow their own course, bur are ordered to do so  iusto foedere.
tinguo is a less common form for tingo – tinxi – tinctus: to wet, dip
vicis (f): change alternation ( the nom. does not occur, as well as some other cases.)
aequus: fair, equal (within this context one can also think of `predictable’. Night will never drastically change its coming from one day to the other. Again due to the iustum foedus. 
Vesper: the evening star, Venus
serus: late
Lucifer: the Morningstar
almus: nourishing
reficio –feci -fectum: renew
alternus: mutual
astriger, astrigeri: starry
exsulo (1): to be banished
haec with elementa
tempero (1): to regulate
modus: measure
pugnantia humida (elementa): pugnantia because the wet periods are fighting with the dry periods, as a commentary on internet says – but this contradicts the concordia – or pugnantia for expressing heavy rains?
cedo cessi cessum: to give way to
siccus: dry
iungo fidem: cf Seneca Thyestes 481-2: cum mari uentus fidem foedusque iungent. Fides is here more or less equal to foedus. So iungo fidem = iungo foedus: to conclude an agreement.
frigus, -oris (n): coldness
pendulus: hanging
pendulus ignis: in ancient cosmology fire was put between air and ether.
surgo surrexi surrectum: to rise
pondus, ponderis (n) weight
sido sidi: to sink down
ver, veris (n): spring
tepeo: to be moderately warm
spiro (1): to breath
florifer: bearing flowers
aestas, -atis (f): summer
ceres, -eris (f): harvest
fervidus: glowing
sicco (1): to make dry
remeo (1): to come back
pomum: a fruit
gravis: loaded
defluus: falling down
imber, imbris (m): heavy rain
temperies (m): proper measure
alo alui al(i)tum: to nourish
profero –ferre –tuli -latum: to bring forth, produce
orbis, orbis (m): world
eadem: acc.!
rapio: to seize (subject: Concordia)
condo –didi –ditum: to establish
aufero: to remove
obitus, -us (m): death
mergo mersi mersum: bury
orior ortus sum: to rise, to be born
conditor –oris (m): maker, founder
habena: rein
aequum: justice
quae: the planets
concito (1): to urge
sisto sisti sistum: to cause to stand
retraho –traxi, -tractum: to withdraw
vagus: wandering
itus itus (m): course
flexos orbes: turning circles
cogo coegi coactum: to force
ordo ordinis (m): order
dissaepio –saepsi –saeptum: to separate
fons, fontis (m): source
fatisco (3): to fall apart
cunctus = omnis
communis: predicate: the love common to
repetuntque boni fine teneri: `and all seek to be held by the limit of the good i.e’they have good as a common goal
duro (1):to endure
queo quivi quitum: to be able to
nisi conuerso rursus amore / refluant causae quae dedit esse. `Unless, when love returns back again (to itself), they flow back to that cause, which gave (them) their existence.’ The idea is that when the divine principle amor returns back to itself and comes to rest, all things should flow back too to that cause (amor), through which they exist. The cosmology here is Aristotelian.

There are many translations and most are in verse too, which means that they do not reflect the original in detail. This prose translation is fairly well, but now and then the interpretation differs from mine.

Translation W.V. Cooper, New York, 1900.
"If thou wouldst diligently behold with unsullied mind the
laws of the God of thunder upon high, look to the highest point
of heaven above. There, by a fair and equal compact, do the
stars keep their ancient peace. The sun is hurried on by its
whirl of fire, but impedes not the moon's cool orb. The Bear
turns its rushing course around the highest pole of the universe,
and dips not in the western depths, and though it sees
the other constellations sink, it never seeks to quench its
flames in the ocean stream. In just divisions of time does the
evening star foretell the coming of the late shadows, and, as
Lucifer, brings back again the warming light of day. Thus
does the interchanging bond of love bring round their neverfailing
courses; and strife is for ever an exile from the starry
realms. This unity rules by fair limits the elements, so that
wet yields to dry, its opposite, and it faithfully joins cold to
heat. Floating fire rises up on high, and matter by its weight
sinks down. From these same causes in warm spring the
flowering season breathes its scents ; then the hot summer dries
the grain; then with its burden of fruits comes autumn again,
and winter's falling rain gives moisture. This mingling of seasons
nourishes and brings forth all on earth that has the breath
of life; and again snatches them away and hides them, whelming
in death all that has arisen. Meanwhile the Creator sits
on high, rules all and guides, King and Lord, fount and source
of all, Law itself and wise judge of justice. He restrains all that
stirs nature to motion, holds it back, and makes firm all that
would stray. If He were not to recall them to their true paths,
and set them again upon the circles of their courses, they
would be torn from their source and so would perish. This
is the common bond of love; all seek thus to be restrained by
the limit of the good. In no other manner can they endure if
this bond of love be not turned round again, and if the causes,
which He has set, return not again.
(Philosophy shews that all fortune is good.)
"Do you see now," she continued, "what follows upon all
that we have said?"
"What is it? "I asked.
"That all fortune is plainly good," she answered.
"How can that be?" said I.
"Consider this," she said: "all fortune, whether pleasant
or difficult, is due to this cause; it is for the sake of rewarding
the good or exercising their virtue, and of punishing and correcting
bad men: therefore it is plain that all this fortune
which is allowed to be just or expedient, must be good."

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Saint Nicolas helps three poor girls

Yesterday Sinterklaas has arrived in the Netherlands. Who? Well, Saint Nicolas, the patron of sailors, thieves and children. Every year around this time he arrives from Spain with his ship and leaves in the night of 5 to 6 December. As long as he is here, children, when going to bed, can put now and then their shoe next to the chimney (by lack of chimneys the central heating is also allowed) and the next morning they find a small present in it. On the evening of the 5th of December there is the grand finale: Sinterklaas is then celebrating his birthday, but instead of accepting presents, he gives presents away to children!
Various things are utterly wrong from a historical point of view: he is not from Spain, but from Asia Minor, it is not his birthday, but his death that is celebrated on the 6th of December - in earlier times a new day started at the sunset - and finally, he is not alive anymore. My parents told me that when I was 7 or 8 and as a staunch believer in Sinterklaas I was shocked. My dear daughter spoiled the fun for me when she was 6. Having watched the arrival of Sinterklaas at the place where my parents live, she said: `Dad, it is impossible that the same man arrives in various places at the same time and besides he has a false beard!’

Contrary to many early saints, Saint Nicolas was real, living from 270- 6th December 343. He was bishop of Myra, modern-day Demre on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. He was from rich parents and used his wealth to help poor people. That is to say according to legend, but as after his death his tomb soon became a pilgrim place, he must have been a remarkable man and there might well be some truth in the legend. Saint Nicolas has become one of the most popular saints both in the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

It is from Sinterklaas that Santa Claus has been evolved, that obese and ugly fellow. When in 2000 the Russian government donated a statue of Saint Nicolas to Demre to be put in the centre of the city, the following happened (I quote from the wiki link below): `In 2005, mayor Suleyman Topcu had the statue replaced by a red-suited plastic Santa Claus statue, because he wanted the central statue to be more recognizable to visitors from all over the world. Protests from the Russian government against this action were successful only to the extent that the Russian statue was returned, without its original high pedestal, to a corner near the church.’ How tasteless!

The following extract is taken from the Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine (1228/9 – 1298). The Legenda Aurea is a large collection of the lives of saints and became widely popular in the late Middle Ages. To be honest, after reading 3 lives it becomes pretty boring and predictable.
Saint Nicolas hears that out of poverty one of his neighbours has no other option but to let his three daughters work as prostitutes. He decides to help the poor children.

Tunc quidam contermineus suus satis nobilis tres filias ob inopiam prostituere cogitur, ut sic earum commercio aleretur. Quod ubi sanctus comperit, scelus abhorruit et massam auri panno involutam in domum eius per fenestram nocte clam iecit et clam recessit. Mane autem surgens homo massam auri reperit et Deo gratiam agens primogenitae nuptias celebravit. Non multo post tempore Dei famulus simile peregit opus. Quod rursus ille reperiens etiam laudes immensas prorumpens de cetero vigilare proposuit, ut sciret, quis esset, qui suae inopiae subvenisset. Post paucos etiam dies duplicatam auri massam in dornum proiecit, ad cuius sonitum ille excitatur et Nicolaum fugientem insequitur talique voce alloquitur: “Siste gradum teque aspectui ne subtrahas meo.” Sicque accurrens velocius Nicolaum hunc esse cognovit. Mox humi prostratus osculari volebat pedes eius, quod ille refutans ab eo exegit, ne eum, quamdiu viveret, publicaret.

contermineus = neighbour
satis nobilis =  though of noble birth
ob inopiam = because of poverty
commercio, -onis =  income (commercio is mediaeval  Latin for commercium)
alo  alui altum/alitum = to feed, nourish, increase
comperio peri pertum = to gain knowledge of
scelus, sceleris (n) = shameful deed
massa = mass. With this gold the neighbour had a dowry for his eldest daughter.
pannus = piece of cloth
involutus (involvo) = wrapped
clam =  secretly
reperio repperi (reperi) repertus = to find
primogenita =  firstborn daughter
nuptiae – arum = marriage
famulus = servant
perago opus = perform a work
rursus = again
ille: the poor neighbour
prorumpo rupi ruptum = to break out
de cetero = for the rest
propono  posui positum = propose, decide
subvenio + dat. = come to the help of
sonitus , -us = sound
excito =  to rouse
talis = such
Siste gradum teque aspectui ne subtrahas meo: Stop your pace, in order that you do not withdraw from my sight.
velocius = faster
mox = soon
humi = on the ground
osculor = to kiss
refuto = to refuse
exigo egi actum =  to demand
publico = to make known

Translation (the extract is the third paragraph)

A Russian icon of Saint Nicolas from 1294