Saturday, 6 April 2013

Boethius 3.M12: don't look back!

This month is the month of philosophy in the Netherlands. Don’t expect my fellow Dutch citizens to run at their bookshelves and read Plato, Kant and Nietzsche or that they try for the 4th time to struggle a way through Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit. No, because so little is done with philosophy here this month has been instituted to promote it. Well, for me a reason to turn again to Boethius. Boethius, waiting for his execution, is spoken to by his guardian Philosophia. She tells him not to worry about earthly things. He is happy who can see bright fountain of goodness and free himself from the chains of the heavy earth! As an example she tells the well-known story of Orpheus, who tried to bring Eurydice back from the Underworld, but alas, he cannot resist looking back and loses her again. So, once having seen this fountain, don’t look back!

De Consolatione Philosophiae  3.M12
Glyconic meter: x x - u u - u -

1             Felix, qui potuit boni
               fontem uisere lucidum,
               felix, qui potuit grauis
terrae soluere uincula.
5             Quondam funera coniugis
               uates Threicius gemens
               postquam flebilibus modis
               siluas currere mobiles,
               amnes stare coegerat
10          iunxitque intrepidum latus
               saeuis cerua leonibus
               nec uisum timuit lepus
               iam cantu placidum canem,
               cum flagrantior intima
15          feruor pectoris ureret
               nec qui cuncta subegerant
               mulcerent dominum modi,
               immites superos querens
               infernas adiit domos.
20          Illic blanda sonantibus
               chordis carmina temperans
               quicquid praecipuis deae
               matris fontibus hauserat,
               quod luctus dabat impotens,
25          quod luctum geminans amor
               deflet Taenara commouens
               et dulci ueniam prece
               umbrarum dominos rogat.
               Stupet tergeminus nouo
30          captus carmine ianitor;
               quae sontes agitant metu
               ultrices scelerum deae
               iam maestae lacrimis madent;
               non Ixionium caput
35          uelox praecipitat rota
               et longa site perditus
               spernit flumina Tantalus;
               uultur dum satur est modis
               non traxit Tityi iecur.
40          Tandem 'uincimur' arbiter
               umbrarum miserans ait.
               'donamus comitem uiro
               emptam carmine coniugem;
 sed lex dona coerceat,
45          ne dum Tartara liquerit
               fas sit lumina flectere.'
               quis legem det amantibus?
               Maior lex amor est sibi.
               Heu, noctis prope terminos
50          Orpheus Eurydicen suam
               uidit, perdidit, occidit.
               Uos haec fabula respicit
               quicumque in superum diem
               mentem ducere quaeritis;
55          nam qui Tartareum in specus
               uictus lumina flexerit,
               quicquid praecipuum trahit
               perdit dum uidet inferos.

viso visi: to look at attentively
uates Threicius: Orpheus, who could play the lure in such a way that trees moved to each other and rivers halted their flow.
flebilis: lamentable
modus: melody
mobiles: resultative predicate `He forced the woods to run so that they were mobile’
intrepidus: fearless
iungo latus: to stand side by side (latus is acc. neuter)
cerva: hind, deer
visum: supine
lepus  leporis (m): hare
placidus: gentle, placid
intima pectoris: the innermost of his heart
flagro: burn, blaze
uro ussi ustum: to burn
subigo –egi –actum: subdue
mulceo: to sooth
immitis: harsh
superi: the gods above
queror questus sum: to complain, lament
infernus: lower, under
blandus: pleasant
tempero: to modulate, play
praecipuus: excellent
deae matris: his mother was the goddess Calliope, chief of the Muses
haurio hausi haustum: drink eagerly
impotens: unbridled
luctus -us: grieve
gemino: to double (his love for Eurydice doubled his grieve)
defleo: to lament (the objects are quicquid…quod…quod)
Taenara: entrance of the underworld
venia: forgiveness
prex precis: prayer
stupeo: to be struck senseless, stunned
tergeninus ianitor: the threefold doorkeeper I.e. Cerberus the hell hound who had three heads (sometimes 100).
sons sontis: criminal
ultrices deae: the revenger goddesses. i.e the three Furies, who haunted (agitant) criminals by inflicting fear
maestus: sorrowful
madeo: to be wet
scelus sceleris (n): crime
Ixionium caput: Ixonian head i.e. pars pro toto for Ixion, a mortal who tried to seduce Hera. Zeus put him into the Tartarus, bound to a winged fiery wheel that was always spinning.
velox: fast
praecipito: to rush headlong, turn fast
sitis sitis (f): thirst
perdido –didi- ditus: to destroy, ruin
sperno sprevi spretum: to despice
vultur vulturis (m): eagle
satur modis: full with the melodies
Tityus: a giant who tried to rape Leto. He was bound into the Tartarus and vultures constantly picked his liver
iecur iecoris (n): the liver
tandem: finally
comitem cuniugem: his comrade wife
emo emi emptum: to buy
coerceo: to restrain
linque liqui: to leave
fas esse: to be allowed
lumina: the eyes
occido –cidi –cisum: to kill
Uos haec fabula respicit:  i.e. this story has do with you
superum diem: the daylight above . The poem ends with a reference to the cave of Plato. Boethius is in that cave, but tries to lead his mind to the light of the metaphysical world. It is also a description of his real situation, as he is imprisoned.
specus – us (m. but in poetry n.): cave
victus: i.e. who has escaped that cave and then overpowered looks back. (The translation in the link below takes it differently: `for the one who in the chasm of the underworld / having been conquered has turned the eyes’ but this – my view - misses the point, as in the previous verses Boethius is trying to get away and this is a warning not to look back.)
lumina flexerit: the object is Tartareum in specus
praecipuum: excellence
perdit: object praecipuum

translation (go to XII):

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