Monday, 30 December 2013

Catullus 50: An afternoon with a good friend.

Catullus was befriended with Gaius Licinius Macer Calvus (86-47 BC), an orator and a fellow poet. Little is known about Calvus, except that he was very short. Unfortunately almost nothing of his writings has been left and what has been left consists of fragments quoted by other authors. As Catullus clearly admired him, he can’t have been a bad poet. The history of the transmission of texts can be unfair to some writers…
In this poem Catullus describes a jolly afternoon with Calvus: they write short poems, have fun and drink wine. Coming home in the evening, Catullus is not hungry and can’t fall asleep. Finally he makes this poem, but he warns Calvus not to despise it, lest Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, might take action upon him.
The poem reminds of a poem of a lover longing for his beloved, but I think we have to read this as joke and irony, still in the mood of the afternoon.

Catullus 50.

HESTERNO, Licini, die otiosi
multum lusimus in meis tabellis,
ut conuenerat esse delicatos:
scribens uersiculos uterque nostrum
ludebat numero modo hoc modo illoc,
reddens mutua per iocum atque uinum.
atque illinc abii tuo lepore
incensus, Licini, facetiisque,
ut nec me miserum cibus iuuaret
nec somnus tegeret quiete ocellos,
sed toto indomitus furore lecto
uersarer, cupiens uidere lucem,
ut tecum loquerer, simulque ut essem.
at defessa labore membra postquam
semimortua lectulo iacebant,
hoc, iucunde, tibi poema feci,
ex quo perspiceres meum dolorem.
nunc audax caue sis, precesque nostras,
oramus, caue despuas, ocelle,
ne poenas Nemesis reposcat a te.
est uemens dea: laedere hanc caueto.

hesternus dies: yesterday (hesternus is etymologically related with yester-day en German Gestern,)
otiosus: having no official business, free
ludo lusi lusum: to play, have fun
in meis tabellis: a tabella is a waxed tablet for writing. Texts  written in wax can easily be wiped out. ut conuenerat esse delicatos: as it was agreed to be spirited = as we agreed to be spirited
delicatus: voluptuous, charming, delightful etc. (not delicate!)
versiculus: a little verse
uterque nostrum: both of us (in Latin treated as a singular!)
numerus: metrum
modo hoc modo illoc: now with this, then with that
reddens mutua: returning to each other verses (poemata or dicta must by supplied. May be we have to think of one poem as an answer to another.)
iocum: joke
illinc: from there
lepus leporis (m.): charm, wit
facetia: humor
cibus: food
iuvat: it pleases
tego texi tectum: to cover
toto indomitus furore: wild by complete frenzy
lecto versarer: I tossed around in my bed (versarer is not passive, but medial.)
simul: together
defesssus: tired
labor laboris (m.): here `suffering’
semimortuus: half death
perspiceres:  you can see clearly
nunc audax caue sis: beware now that you are presumptuous.  i.e. be not presumptuous  (and don’t reject this poem!)
precesque nostras, oramus, caue despuas =  et oramus, cave despuas preces nostras:  and I pray: beware, that you despise our plees.
ocelle:  `my eye’
reposco poenas a aliquo: to punish someone
vemens = vehemens: terrible
laedo laesi laesum: to hurt
caveto: more solemn than cave. Imperatives in –to are used in legal and religious texts.

Here is a translation by Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890):  adventurer, explorer, translator of the Kama Sutra and 1001 Nights, spy, erotomaniac and Sufi:

Idly (Licinius!) we our yesterday,
Played with my tablets much as pleased us play,
In mode becoming souls of dainty strain.
Inditing verses either of us twain
Now in one measure then in other line
We rang the changes amid wit and wine.
Then fared I homewards by thy fun so fired
And by thy jests (Licinius!) so inspired,
Nor food my hapless appetite availed
Nor sleep in quiet rest my eyelids veiled,
But o'er the bedstead wild in furious plight
I tossed a-longing to behold the light,
So I might talk wi' thee, and be wi' thee.
But when these wearied limbs from labour free
Were on my couchlet strewn half-dead to lie,
For thee (sweet wag!) this poem for thee wrote I,
Whereby thou mete and weet my cark and care.
Now be not over-bold, nor this our prayer
Outspit thou (apple of mine eyes !): we pray
Lest doom thee Nemesis hard pain repay :—
She's a dire Goddess, 'ware thou cross her way.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Tibullus 1.10, 1-12: The abhorrence of war.

When Tibullus (55-19 BC) was called to serve as a knight in the Roman army, he expressed his abhorrence of war in this poem. In the first 12 lines he deplores that weapons have ever been invented, but is also aware that not weapons are the cause of war, but human greed. O, could he have lived in those times when war was unknown!
As neither Messalia nor Delia – his mistresses - is mentioned, scholars believe this is the oldest surviving poem.

Tibullus, Elegies book 1.10, 1-12 (in some editions it is elegy 11)

Quis fuit, horrendos primus qui protulit enses?
     Quam ferus et vere ferreus ille fuit!
Tum caedes hominum generi, tum proelia nata,
     Tum brevior dirae mortis aperta via est.
An nihil ille miser meruit, nos ad mala nostra               5
     Vertimus, in saevas quod dedit ille feras?
Divitis hoc vitium est auri, nec bella fuerunt,
     Faginus adstabat cum scyphus ante dapes.
Non arces, non vallus erat, somnumque petebat
     Securus sparsas dux gregis inter oves.               10
Tunc mihi vita foret, volgi nec tristia nossem
     Arma nec audissem corde micante tubam;

primus: as first
profero protuli prolatum: to produce
ensis ensis (m.) sword
ferus: wild
ferreus: made of iron (i.e. from the time metal was introduced, contrary to line 8 -10.)
caedes caedis (f.): slaughter
generi: dative of disadvantage
proelium: strife
nata: both with caedes and proelia
dirus: harsh
aperio aperui apertum: to uncover, lay open
An nihil ille miser meruit, nos ad mala nostra / Vertimus, in saevas quod dedit ille feras? Or has he –the poor man - deserved no blame, because he gave (swords) against wild beasts (fera), we (self) turned  to our own misery?
dives divitis: costly
vitium: fault, vice
faginus scyphus: a bowl made of beech wood (Tibullus is referring to a time when metal was unknown. Of course this is an imagined time and a literary topos.)
adstabat ante dapes: `was present before’  (a drinking party before a banquet (daps dapis  f.) is meant.)
arx arcis (f.): fortification
vallus: palisade
peto petivi (petii) petitum: to seek
securus: adjective for adverb `safely’
grex gregis (m.): flock
sparsas oves: sheep dispersed (over the field). The herdsman can safely sleep as no one would steal them. But what about wolves?
foret: old form for esset: `might life then be for me’
volgi = vulgi. Again a deliberate archaism.
nossem = novissem
corde micante: with trembling (mico) heart
tubam: the trumpet used for giving signals during battle

The following translation is by T.C. Williams,  New York, 1905. Unfortunately it is the only translation available on internet. When you compare this translation with the Latin, it is easy to see that the translator has taken some liberties.

Whoe'er first forged the terror-striking sword,
  His own fierce heart had tempered like its blade.
  What slaughter followed! Ah! what conflict wild!
  What swifter journeys unto darksome death!
  But blame not him! Ourselves have madly turned
  On one another's breasts that cunning edge
  Wherewith he meant mere blood of beast to spill.
  Gold makes our crime. No need for plundering war,
  When bowls of beech-wood held the frugal feast.
  No citadel was seen nor moated wall;
  The shepherd chief led home his motley flock,
  And slumbered free from care. Would I had lived
  In that good, golden time; nor e'er had known
  A mob in arms arrayed; nor felt my heart
  Throb to the trumpet's call!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Juvenal Satire x 346-367: mens sana in corpore sano, or not?

In his tenth satire Juvenal (late first century –early second century) criticizes human striving after wealth and fame. This satire has an Epicurean and Stoic outlook: we should live according to Nature and not exceed the limits set by her. After a number of examples, Juvenal asks:`ìs there nothing people shall wish for?’ Yes, there is: we can ask for a free mind and live a life a virtue. Once we have this, we don’t need Fortuna any more.
It is in this final part of the satire, that we find the famous dictum: mens sana in corpore sano. Isolated from its context, it is interpreted as something we should work for ourselves. Countless sport schools, clubs and physiotherapist have this as slogan – as if a healthy mind is taken for granted! But within the context it is something people can pray for, if they want something to pray for. For me, having no inclination for total body workouts, this is a great relief!

Juveanl, Satire  x, 346-367

nil ergo optabunt homines? si consilium uis,
permittes ipsis expendere numinibus quid
conueniat nobis rebusque sit utile nostris;
nam pro iucundis aptissima quaeque dabunt di.
carior est illis homo quam sibi. nos animorum               350
inpulsu et caeca magnaque cupidine ducti
coniugium petimus partumque uxoris, at illis
notum qui pueri qualisque futura sit uxor.
ut tamen et poscas aliquid uoueasque sacellis
exta et candiduli diuina tomacula porci,               355
orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem,
qui spatium uitae extremum inter munera ponat
naturae, qui ferre queat quoscumque labores,
nesciat irasci, cupiat nihil et potiores               360
Herculis aerumnas credat saeuosque labores
et uenere et cenis et pluma Sardanapalli.
monstro quod ipse tibi possis dare; semita certe
tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae.
nullum numen habes, si sit prudentia: nos te,               365
nos facimus, Fortuna, deam caeloque locamus.

expendo expendi expensum: litt. `to pay’, but here ``to decide’
ipsis numinibus: to the very powers that be (a numen is less concrete than a deus.)
pro iucundis: instead of pleasant things
aptissima quaeque dabunt di = di dabunt ea quae aptissima sunt
caecus: blind
coniugium: union (i.e. a marriage)
partum uxoris: and the wife giving birth (partus, partus, m.)
illis: the gods
qui = quales
posco poposci: to ask. pray
voveo vovi votum: to consecrate
sacella: a small temple, shrine
exta extorum: organs
candulus: white
divinus: (here) predicting
tomacula: sausages (note that sacella, candula and tomacula are all diminutives, expressing Juvenal’s contempt for asking the future from the gods.)
porcus:  pig
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem: pray for a strong mind free from (careo + abl.) fear of death.
extremum: as the least valuable
munus muneris (n.): gift
quieo quivi quitum: to be able, can    
irascor iratus sum: to be angry 
potiores: more preferable  (than the venere etc. of Sardanapalius)
Herculis : Hercules was seen as an example of wisdom by the Stoics. His 12 labours were allegorically explained as exertions for reaching moral perfection
aerumna: hardship, toil
venus vernris (f.) lust
cena: dinner party
pluma: feather,  cushion filled with feathers
Sardanapalius: Assurbanipal (669-627 BC), the last king of Assyria, known for his lavish and luxurious lifestyle.
monstro: to point out
semita certe tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae: a single way (semita) lies open through virtue for a quiet life, (i.e. the practice of a Stoic lifestyle.)

Translation by G.G. Ramsay (1918):

Is there nothing then for which men shall pray? If you ask my counsel, you will leave it to the gods themselves to provide what is good for us, and what will be serviceable for our state; for, in place of what is pleasing, they will give us what is best. Man is dearer to them than he is to himself. Impelled by strong and blind desire, we ask for wife and offspring; but the gods know of what sort the sons, of what sort the wife, will be. Nevertheless that you may have something to pray for, and be able to offer to the shrines entrails and presaging sausages from a white porker, you should pray for a sound mind in a sound body; for a stout heart that has no fear of death, and deems length of days the least of Nature's gifts; that can endure any kind of toil; that knows neither wrath nor desire, and thinks that the woes and hard labours of Hercules are better than the loves and the banquets and the down cushions of Sardanapalus. What I commend to you, you can give to yourself; for it is assuredly through virtue that lies the one and only road to a life of peace. Thou wouldst have no divinity, O Fortune, if we had but wisdom; it is we that make a goddess of thee, and place thee in the skies.