Friday, 29 November 2013

Ovid, Fasti 5, 429-444: how to drive away evil spirits from your house.

When in 8 AD Ovid was sent into exile to the Black Sea, he was writing a poem about the religious festivities taking place at every month, the Fasti (calendar). Every month had its own book, but Ovid did not complete the work and only the first six months were ready.
Ovid was a poet and not a scholar in religion and the Fasti is therefore not always a reliable guide. Still, it contains a wealth of information, which we otherwise would not have known. For example the ritual to drive away malevolent ghosts of deceased forefathers from ones house during the Lemuria is only known from the passage below. The name lemuria is derived from lemures `evil spirits’ and took place on 9, 11 and 13 May and because of the connection with evil spirits, the whole month of May was considered inauspicious and no festivities were allowed to take place.
As I have done a master in comparative religion, I have a keen interest in rituals and this one is quite easy: the pater familias has to go at midnight through the house, make a fist in order to avert the evil eye, wash his hands and throw black beans over his shoulder while uttering some Latin. So far so good: I can easily do that, but where can I find Temesan bronze?  I am afraid that I will have to live with the evil spirits in my house…

Ovid, Fasti 5, 429-444

nox ubi iam media est somnoque silentia praebet,
     et canis et variae conticuistis aves,               430
ille memor veteris ritus timidusque deorum
     surgit (habent gemini vincula nulla pedes),
signaque dat digitis medio cum pollice iunctis,
     occurrat tacito ne levis umbra sibi.
cumque manus puras fontana perluit unda,               435
     vertitur et nigras accipit ante fabas,
aversusque iacit; sed dum iacit, 'haec ego mitto,
     his' inquit 'redimo meque meosque fabis.'
hoc novies dicit nec respicit: umbra putatur
     colligere et nullo terga vidente sequi.               440
rursus aquam tangit, Temesaeaque concrepat aera,
     et rogat ut tectis exeat umbra suis.
cum dixit novies 'manes exite paterni'
     respicit, et pure sacra peracta putat.

praebeo praebui praebitum: to give, grant
canis: everyone knows of course that this means `dog’, but it is less known  that canis is directly related to `hound’. In words inherited from Indo-European the Latin initial c can correspond to Germanic h: cornu –horn, centum – hundred etc. 
conticesco conticui: to fall silent
memor (+gen.): mindfull of
ritus ritus (m.): ceremony, rite
timidus deorum: genitivus objectivus `afraid of’
habent gemini vincula nulla pedes: his both feet have no fetters (i.e. not wearing sandals).
signaque dat digitis medio cum pollice iunctis: `and he makes a sign with his fingers, connected with the thumb (pollex pollicis (m.) in the middle’.  So he makes a fist with the fingers over the thumb. This sign is made to ward of the evil eye. In Italian it is called `the fig’. la fica or mano fica.
occurrat tacito ne levis umbra sibi = ne occurrat tacito levis umbra sibi
tacito with sibi
umbra: shadow, ghost
puras: resultative adjective, so `in order the hands become clean’.
fontanus: belonging to/from a fountain
perluo perlui perlutum: to wash
unda = in unda
faba: bean
averto averti aversum: to turn away
iacio ieci iactum: to throw
redimo redemi redemptum: to redeem
novies: nine times
nullo vidente: seen by nobody
terga sequi: to follow behind
colligere: i.e. to collect the beans
rursus: again
Temesaea aera: bronze (aes aeris (n.) from the mines near Temesa. Probably some kind of bell is meant.
concrepo concrepui concrepitum: to sound, rattle
Manes: the spirits of the forefathers. Normally they are benevolent, but here they are identified with evil spirits.

Translation by Sir James Frazer (1931):

When midnight has come and lends silence to sleep,
and dogs and all ye varied fowls are hushed, the
worshipper who bears the olden rite in mind and
fears the gods arises ; no knots constrict his feet ;
and he makes a sign with his thumb in the middle
of his closed fingers," lest in his silence an unsub-
stantial shade should meet him. And after washing
his hands clean in spring water, he turns, and first
he receives black beans and throws them away with
face averted ; but while he throws them, he says :
" These I cast ; with these beans I redeem me and
mine." This he says nine times, without looking
back : the shade is thought to gather the beans,
and to follow unseen behind. Again he touches
water, and clashes Temesan  bronze, and asks the
shade to go out of his house. When he has said
nine times, " Ghosts of my fathers, go forth ! " he
looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed
the sacred rites.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Phaedrus: an old woman and a furious panther, but fortunately not in the same fable!

From the 19th century till the thirties of the last century the German publishing house Teubner had an enormous output of classical texts with an apparatus criticus and texts with a commentary, both scholarly and for schools. I think they have abandoned publishing commentaries after the war and I am not quite sure if they still publish critical editions. Last week I was in a second-hand bookshop and literally in a corner on the lowest shelf I found a few dozen of 19th century school editions for 50 cent each. Most were in a very bad state, falling apart as soon as opened, but a few were still in a reasonable condition, so I bought a couple of books. Among these was a school edition of Phaedrus  (Siebelis, revised by Polle, 1889) with almost all the fables, be it that some lines have been left out as the editor thought these unfit for young boys. Fortunately times have changed and nowadays pupils are well aware that the Romans had a sex life.
Even for a fairly easy writer as Phaedrus a commentary is indispensable for understanding references, implicit lines of thought and Latin expressions. I will give two examples, quite at random as the book fell open on these pages.
The first fable is actually not a fable, but a kind of plea for the reader. After the successful publication of his first two books of fables, Phaedrus has written a third book and is not quite sure if it will match the success of his previous books. In this poem an old woman sees a jar which has contained old exquisite wine. She can still smell the flagrance and thinks of how lovely that wine must have been. The old woman, the commentary explains, is a reader who has read the previous books and is now about to read the third book and the wine refers to the earlier books. But how could she know it was old wine? Well, on jars of wine the kind of wine was inscribed as well as the names of the consuls of the year the wine was produced.  I never knew!
The second fable is about a panther that had fallen in a pit. Some herdsmen throw sticks and stones at her, some bread, though I don’t think that is the kind of food panthers like in particular. Finally the panther is able to jump out of the pit, devastates the country - in the fable the panther has the power of a Tyrannosaurus Rex - and kills the herdsmen who threw sticks stones. The commentary suggests that this fable refers to Tiberius, who after his exile to Rhodes came back to Rome in 2 AD and took revenge on his enemies. Here I am a bit sceptical: when this took place, Phaedrus was about 17 and at the publication of his third book of fables, this must have been quite some time ago. Reading a commentary is also a discussion with the author.

Phaedrus 3.1. Anus ad Amphoram

Anus iacere uidit epotam amphoram,
adhuc Falerna faece e testa nobili
odorem quae iucundum late spargeret.
Hunc postquam totis auida traxit naribus:
"O suauis anima, quale in te dicam bonum
antehac fuisse, tales cum sint reliquiae!"
Hoc quo pertineat dicet qui me nouerit.

anus, anus (f.): old woman
epotus: drunken out, empty
adhuc Falerna faece e testa nobili: still with dreg of Falernian wine from a noble jar (Falernian wine was the best.)
odorem iucundum: a pleasant smell
late: widely
spargo sparsi sparsum: to spread
avida: eagerly (Latin can use an adjective where English requires an adverb, cf, inprudens and securi below)
traho traxi tractum: to draw
naris naris (f.): nose (from an older nasis)
anima: smell
quale in te dicam bonum antehac fuisse, tales cum sint reliquiae: As good as I say you (the wine) must have been before in (the jar), such are your remains.
Hoc quo pertineat dicet qui me nouerit.: What this is about, he may tell, who knows me.

Phaedrus 3,2: Panthera et Pastores
Meter: iambic trimeter

Solet a despectis par referri gratia.
Panthera inprudens olim in foueam decidit.
Videre agrestes; alii fustes congerunt,
alii onerant saxis; quidam contra miseriti
periturae quippe, quamuis nemo laederet,
misere panem ut sustineret spiritum.
Nox insecuta est; abeunt securi domum,
quasi inuenturi mortuam postridie.
At illa, uires ut refecit languidas,
ueloci saltu fouea sese liberat
et in cubile concito properat gradu.
Paucis diebus interpositis prouolat,
pecus trucidat, ipsos pastores necat,
et cuncta uastans saeuit irato impetu.
Tum sibi timentes qui ferae pepercerant
damnum haut recusant, tantum pro uita rogant.
At illa: "Memini quis me saxo petierit,
quis panem dederit; uos timere absistite;
illis reuertor hostis qui me laeserunt."

parem gratiam refero: to pay back with the same. For the whole sentence: people who are despised (despicio: to look down upon) and are thought of being incapable of revenge, can still do so.
inprudens: incautious
fovea: pit
videre = viderunt
agrestis, -is (m.): peasant
fustis , -is (m.): club, stick
congero congessi congestum: (of weapons) to throw  in great numbers
onero: to load, make heavy
contra: adv. on the other hand
quidam miseriti periturae quippe: some having got pity for (the panther), who was of course (quippe) about to collapse. periturae is also indirect object to misere panem.
quamvis: although
laedo laesi laesum: to hurt
misere = miserunt
insequor insecutus sum: to follow
securi: Latin uses adjectives where English prefers adverbs:` the went safely home’.
uires ut refecit languidas: when she had strengthened her weak powers
veloci saltu: with a fast leap
et in cubile concito properat gradu: and with quick pace hastened to her den
interpositis: after a period of etc.
provolo: to rush out
trucido: to butcher, slaughter
neco: to kill
et cuncta uastans saeuit irato impetu: and devastating everything, she rages on with furious speed
fera: wild animal
parco peperci parsum (+ dat.): to spare
damnum haut recusant, tantum pro uita rogant: they did not object against the loss (of their cattle), but only begged for their life
peto peti(v)i petitum: to attack
hostis: predicate `as enemy’