Thursday, 20 June 2013

Paulus Diaconus: on the danger of the river Maritsa.

Paulus Diaconus (c. 720s – 13 April probably 799) is not only known for his Historia Longobardorum, but he is also the writer of several poems. In the following short poem he describes a small tragedy: a Thracian boy plays in wintertime on the river Hebrus, the modern river Maritsa, which runs through the Balkans. The ice breaks, the boy is dragged away by the fast running river under the ice, but his head his cut off by the broken ice. His mother finds the head, cremates it and puts the ashes in an urn. The last sentence of the poem alludes to the alleged laconic mentality of the Thracians in classical sources. For good order: the Thracians were already for centuries extinct when Paulus Diaconus wrote this poem. Anyway, let this poem be a warning: don’t let you children play on the Maritsa when frozen!

De puero, qui in glacie extinctus est

    Trax puer adstricto glacie dum ludit in Hebro,
          Frigore concretas pondere rupit aquas.
    Dumque imae partes rapido traherentur ab amni,
          Praesecuit tenerum lubrica testa caput.
    Orba quod inventum mater dum conderet urna,
          «Hoc peperi flammis, cetera», dixit, «aquis».

Trax: Thracian
ludo lusi lusum: to play
adstricto glacie: when the ice was hard
pondus –eris (n): weight
rumpo rupi ruptum: to break
imae partes: the lower parts of his body
praeseco –secui –sectum: to cut off
lubricus: slippery

testa: a testa is a piece of broken earthen-ware, but here of course (broken) ice on water. For this image cf. Ovid Tristia 3.10.37-8: Vidimus ingentem glacie consistere pontum, /   lubricaque inmotas testa premebat aquas.
orbus: bereft
condo condidi conditum: to hide, put away
quod: referring back to caput
pario peperi partum: to give birth

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