Thursday, 28 March 2013

How to curse a thief.

In the Netherlands there are more bikes than inhabitants, so a bike is not a rare commodity. Still, stealing of bikes is a constant source of irritation. Some of my friends have undergone this 10 times or more during their student life and finally ended up with buying other stolen bikes for a few euros from drug addicts, who are mainly responsible for the theft of bikes. It happened to me thrice, but the police was two times able to retrieve the bike, which is nothing less than a miracle and a sign of my excellent good karma, on account of which I think I will at least reincarnate as a captain of industry or a banker!  I thought about this when reading this poem in the book I bought yesterday: `Milennium. A Latin Reader 374-1374.’ by F.E. Harrison. It almost escaped my notice, as this second hand book was not among the shelf of unread languages (inter alia Russian, Indonesian, Czech, Hungarian, Sanskrit and of course Greek and Latin) but at a shelf with Dutch colonial history…
According to Harrington it is taken from the Carmina Burana, but it is not included in my edition. Some sources on internet say that it is ascribed to Walther Map (ca. 1130-1210), but most likely it is anonymous.  This song is a humorous curse of a thief who stole a hat, but of course we can instead of pileum fill in any stolen object, like birota, Latin for bicycle!

Raptor mei pilei morte moriatur:
mors sit subitanea nec prevideatur;
et pena continua post mortem sequatur,
nec campis Elysiis post Lethen fruatur.

raptor: thief, robber
pileum: hat       
morte moriatur: a humorous figura etymologica `may he die by death’.
subitaneus: sudden. A sudden and unexpected death was something feared (I think because it was impossible to confess one’s sins before dying, so the gates of Hell stood wide open…)
pena = poena
campis Elysiis: the abode of the blessed was located behind the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.
frui + abl.: to make use of, enjoy

Raptor mei pilei seva morte cadat:
illum febris, scabies et tabes invadat,
hunc de libro Dominus vite sue radat,
hunc tormentis Aeacus cruciandum tradat.

seva = saeva
scabies (f): the scab, mange, itch, leprosy
tabes, -is (f): plague, pestilence
de libro vitae suae: cf. Revelations 2:5 ` qui vicerit sic vestietur vestimentis albis et non delebo nomen eius de libro vitae et confitebor nomen eius coram Patre meo et coram angelis eius’ (He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. KJV)
Aeacus: one of the judges of the underworld in Greek mythology.

Eius vita brevis sit pessimumque finis,
nec vivat feliciter hic diebus binis,
laceret hunc Cerberus dentibus caninis,
laceratum gravius torqueat Erinys.

finis: genitive
diebus binis: ablative of time
lacero –avi –atum: tear to pieces
Erinys: one of the furies

Excommunicatus sit agro vel in tecto,
nullus eum videat lumine directo,
solus semper sedeat similis deicto;
hinc penis Tartareis crucietur lecto.

Excommunicatus sit agro vel in tecto: a reference to the excommunication formula `maledictus sit in via et in agro etc.’
in tecto: at home
lumine directo: open light. So the thief must live in darkness and shadows!
similis deicto: `similar to an outcast’
hinc: next
penis = poenis

Hoc si quis audierit excommunicamen,
et non observaverit presulis examen;
nisi resipuerit corrigens peccamen,
anathema fuerit. Fiat, fiat! amen.

presulis examen: the bishop’s examination, hence `sentence’
resipisco –ui: come to senses . This too is taken from the excommunication formula `nisi resipuerit et ad satisfactionem venerit’
peccamen = peccatum
Fiat, fiat! Amen the same ending as the excommunication formula.

Bikes in the Netherlands