Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Tacitus describing the Finnish people.

In his Germania Tacitus not only deals with Germanic tribes, but at the very end of his treatise he comes to speak about the Fenni, the Finns. What he tells is far from flattering: as a people living farthest of the Romans, they must be the most primitive people one can imagine, though there is a touch of admiration in his description. It is therefore surprising that Latin is very popular in Finland: Finish radio has a weekly news broadcast in Latin. The Finns themselves believe that Tacitus was wrong and what he called Fenni were actually Saami, arctic people living in the north of Finland and Scandinavia. There is no reason to mistrust Tacitus, but I won’t discuss this with the young and pretty female student from Finland I sometimes see in the pub. Not in order to please her - I will make no chance with her at my age - but she is about a head taller than me…

Germania c. 46 (excerpt)
Fennis mira feritas, foeda paupertas: non arma, non equi, non penates; victui herba, vestitui pelles, cubile humus: solae in sagittis spes, quas inopia ferri ossibus asperant. Idemque venatus viros pariter ac feminas alit; passim enim comitantur partemque praedae petunt. Nec aliud infantibus ferarum imbriumque suffugium quam ut in aliquo ramorum nexu contegantur: huc redeunt iuvenes, hoc senum receptaculum. Sed beatius arbitrantur quam ingemere agris, inlaborare domibus, suas alienasque fortunas spe metuque versare: securi adversus homines, securi adversus deos rem difficillimam adsecuti sunt, ut illis ne voto quidem opus esset.

feritas –atis (f): fierceness, wildness
foedus: ugly, detestable
non penates: `no household gods’ i.e. no fixed dwelling places
victui herba, vestitui pelles: grass for food, hides for clothing
cubile (n): bed  (note the difference of construction with  victui herba, vestitui pelles)
solae spes: note the plural, though there is only one thing hoped for.
sagitta: arrow
inopia: lack
ossibus:  arrow heads of bone
aspero: to make rough, sharpen
venatus –us (m): hunting
pariter alit: hunting feeds men as well as women as they hunt together.
passim: everywhere
comitor: to accompany. i.e. the women accompany  the men.
partemque praedae petunt: `and they (the women) claim a share in securing the spoil’ ( from the commentary on the Germania  by J.G.G. Anderson)
Nec aliud infantibus ferarum imbriumque suffugium quam ut in aliquo ramorum nexu contegantur
`And nothing else as shelter for their children against wild beasts and rain than that they are coverered in a sorry entwining of branches.’
redeunt: from hunting
receptulum: retreat
ingemo ingemui: to mourn, groan, sigh over (i.e. to groan the labour of tiling fields)
inlaborare domibus: toiling the building of houses
fortuna: good, property
verso: to turn over,  traffic (the Fins mainly traded in fur and hides)
ne quidem: not even
opus esr (+ abl. or gen.): there is need of