Friday, 31 January 2014

Lucretius: why the soul is not immortal.

Reading Lucretius (99 – 55 BC) is a challenge. The syntax is far more difficult than Ovid or Vergil, but Lucretius was still experimenting with hexameters, a type of poetry taken over by the Romans from the Greek. Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer more or less, wrote his didactic poems in this meter and so did Parmenides and other Greek philosophers. Lucretius had a difficult subject and is clearly wrestling with putting his thoughts in the right meter – and he succeeded. But I wonder how many Romans would have understood his Latin, both for syntax and ideas. This is clearly Latin for the well-educated Romans with a background in Greek verse and philosophy.  Suppose such a Roman would go to a shop and ask for something in this kind of Latin, I think the shopkeeper would have considered him as a kind of madman.
Lucretius admired Epicurus, who based his philosophy on the materialistic views of Leucippus and Democritus: everything consists of atoms, including the soul and the mind and as a consequence both will dissolve after death. In his De Rerum Natura Lucretius explains and advocates this atomistic philosophy and in this text he proofs that soul and mind are not immortal.
This is not a beginner’s text, so I have not explained every word. I my commentary I have tried to be as economic as possible.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 3,417- 444

Nunc age, nativos animantibus et mortalis
esse animos animasque levis ut noscere possis,
conquisita diu dulcique reperta labore
digna tua pergam disponere carmina vita.
tu fac utrumque uno subiungas nomine eorum
atque animam verbi causa cum dicere pergam,
mortalem esse docens, animum quoque dicere credas,
quatenus est unum inter se coniunctaque res est.
    Principio quoniam tenuem constare minutis
corporibus docui multoque minoribus esse
principiis factam quam liquidus umor aquai
aut nebula aut fumus; nam longe mobilitate
praestat et a tenui causa magis icta movetur,
quippe ubi imaginibus fumi nebulaeque movetur;
quod genus in somnis sopiti ubi cernimus alte
exhalare vaporem altaria ferreque fumum;
nam procul haec dubio nobis simulacra geruntur
nunc igitur quoniam quassatis undique vasis
diffluere umorem et laticem discedere cernis,
et nebula ac fumus quoniam discedit in auras,
crede animam quoque diffundi multoque perire
ocius et citius dissolvi in corpora prima,
cum semel ex hominis membris ablata recessit;
quippe etenim corpus, quod vas quasi constitit eius,
cum cohibere nequit conquassatum ex aliqua re
ac rarefactum detracto sanguine venis,
aëre qui credas posse hanc cohiberier ullo,
corpore qui nostro rarus magis incohibens sit?

nativos animantibus et mortalis / esse animos animasque levis ut noscere possis = ut noscere possis animos animasque levis animantibus matovos et mortalis esse
animantibus: the participle animans  denotes all living beings
animos animasque: Lucretius makes a distinction between the mind (animus) and the soul (anima) governing the vital principles.
levis…mortalis  =  leves …mortales
conquisita diu dulcique reperta labore / digna tua pergam disponere carmina vita = pergam disponere  carmina, conquisita diu dulcique reperta labore, digna tua vita
conquisita diu dulcique reperta labore:  sought for a long time and found by sweet labour (Lucretius refers here to the difficult but also pleasant labour of composing his poem. For the student Latin reading Lucretius is often hard labour…)
pergo perrexi perrectus: to continue
dispono disposui dispositum: to arrange  
(carmina) digna tua vita: mind that dignus governs the ablative! tua vita: a formal expression for saying ` for you’, in this case Memmius to whom De rerum natura was dedicated.
tu fac utrumque uno subiungas nomine eorum / atque animam verbi causa cum dicere pergam, = tu fac iungas sub uno nomine utrumque eorum  (i.e. animus and anima) atque cum dicere pergam `animam’  verbi causa
verbi causa: for example
(me) dicere
quatenus: since
quoniam principio docui: what follows is the first of 29 proofs that soul and mind are mortal, occupying the remainder of book three. docui: refers to lines 277-33o, in which Lucretius told Memmius that the soul consists of atoms.
tenuem (animam)
principium: particle, atom
aquai = aquae
nam longe mobilitate / praestat et a tenui causa magis icta movetur: refers to the argument in 3.184-5, saying that the mind moves more quickly than anything visible, because it is moved by images of things. The idea is that we do not imagine things, but that images are made of particles emanating from existing things making an impression in our mind.
quippe ubi: as of course when
in somnis: in dreams
sopio sopivi sopitum: the bring to sleep, lull
cernimus alte / exhalare vaporem altaria ferreque fumum: we see the altars exhaling steam high up and smoke send up
procul haec dubio nobis simulacra geruntur: without any doubt these are brought to us as images (some editions have feruntur for geruntur, but the meaning is the same.)
quassatis vasis: the example of broken vases is on purpose, as a vase containing water is like our body containing the soul.
undique (everywhere) goes with diffluere
latex laticis (m.): fluid
in corpora prima: in its primal parts (i.e. the soul is a agglomeration of various atoms which at death will dissolve.)
quipped etinem: therefore indeed
cohibere (animam): to hold the soul together
rarefacio  –feci –factum: to make thin
detracto sanguine venis: abl. abs.
aëre qui credas posse hanc cohiberier ullo, / corpore qui nostro rarus magis incohibens sit? = qui credas hanc cohibiberier ullo aëre, qui incohibens sit magis rarus nostro corpore?
qui credas: how could you believe
cohiberier = cohiberi
incohibens (animam) sit: could hold the soul together (incohibens is an emendation for the manuscript reading  incohibescit. Both words are unattested elsewhere. An emendation is necessary as the idea must be that we with our `thick’ body can contain the soul, but air, with its `thin’ (rarus) body can’t.)
Translation by William Ellery Leonard, 1916

Now come: that thou mayst able be to know
That minds and the light souls of all that live
Have mortal birth and death, I will go on
Verses to build meet for thy rule of life,
Sought after long, discovered with sweet toil.
But under one name I'd have thee yoke them both;
And when, for instance, I shall speak of soul,
Teaching the same to be but mortal, think
Thereby I'm speaking also of the mind-
Since both are one, a substance inter-joined.
First, then, since I have taught how soul exists
A subtle fabric, of particles minute,
Made up from atoms smaller much than those
Of water's liquid damp, or fog, or smoke,
So in mobility it far excels,
More prone to move, though strook by lighter cause
Even moved by images of smoke or fog-
As where we view, when in our sleeps we're lulled,
The altars exhaling steam and smoke aloft-
For, beyond doubt, these apparitions come
To us from outward. Now, then, since thou seest,
Their liquids depart, their waters flow away,
When jars are shivered, and since fog and smoke
Depart into the winds away, believe
The soul no less is shed abroad and dies
More quickly far, more quickly is dissolved
Back to its primal bodies, when withdrawn
From out man's members it has gone away.
For, sure, if body (container of the same
Like as a jar), when shivered from some cause,
And rarefied by loss of blood from veins,
Cannot for longer hold the soul, how then
Thinkst thou it can be held by any air-
A stuff much rarer than our bodies be?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Alcuin: Let the cuckoo come!

At the moment I am writing this post, the first snow of this winter has fallen here. Looking for an appropriate text, I found this poem by Alcuin (though sometimes attributed to Bede). Alcuin (c. 735 – 19 May 804) was an English monk working at the court of Charlemagne and one of the scholars responsible for the Carolinian Renaissance. This poem is about a quarrel between Spring and Winter: shepherds come together in praise of the cuckoo, whom they want to come. Winter and Spring come too and a strife arises between these two, as Spring wants the cuckoo to come too, but Winter wants this bird to stay away. At the end Palaemon and Daphnis – the old and the young shepherd from Virgil’s Eclogues – support Spring.
As for me, for the time being I support Winter: first a lot of snow!
I have left the first part out, but you can read it in the translation below.

Alcuin, Conflictus Veris et Hiemis.
Meter: hexameter

Opto meus veniat cuculus, carissimus ales.
omnibus iste solet fieri gratissimus hospes
in tectis, modulans rutilo bona carmina rostro.

Opto veniat = opto ut veniat
in omnibus tectis: (tectum: roof, house, but as far as I know the cuckoo is a wood bird )
modulo: to sing
rutilo rostro: with a red beak

Tum glacialis Hiems respondit voce severa:
non veniat cuculus, nigris sed dormiat antris.
iste famem secum semper portare suescit.

antrum: cave (it was unknown that the cuckoos in Europa spent wintertime in Africa)
fames –is (f.)
suescit = consuescit (the reason why the cuckoo used to take hunger with it, is that  during spring the store of winter food was often becoming critically low and there was no new harvest yet.)

Opto meus veniat cuculus cum germine laeto,
frigora depellat, Phoebo comes almus in aevum.
Phoebus amat cuculum crescenti luce serena.

germen –inis (n.): bud, germ
(cum) Phoebo (Phoebus: the sun)
comes comitis (m., f,): companion
almus: foodgiving
aevum: time, eternity

Non veniat cuculus, generat quia forte labores,
proelia congeminat, requiem disiungit amatam,
omnia disturbat; pelagi terraeque laborant.

generat quia = quia generat
forte: perhaps
congemino: to double (because often in wintertime no war expeditions were undertaken.)
disiungo disiunxi disiuntum: to break
pelagus: the sea

Quid tu, tarda Hiems, cuculo convitia cantas?
qui torpore gravi tenebrosis tectus in antris
post epulas Veneris, post stulti pocula Bacchi.

tardus: slow
convitium: reproach
torpor –oris (m.): sluggishness  
tenebrosus: dark
tectus: covered

Sunt mihi divitiae, sunt et convivia laeta,
est requies dulcis, calidus est ignis in aede.
haec cuculus nescit, sed perfidis ille laborat.

divitiae –arum: riches
convivium: feast
calidus: warm
aedes aedis (f. usually plural)

Ore ferat flores cuculus, et mella ministrat,
aedificatque domus, placidas et navigat undas,
et generat soboles, laetos et vestiet agros.

mel mellis (n.): honey
placidas et navigat undas: in summertime there are less storms than in autumn and winter, but if the cuckoo is responsible for that...
soboles –is (f.): offspring
vestio: to clothe, dress

Haec inimica mihi sunt, quae tibi laeta videntur.
sed placet optatas gazas numerare per arcas
et gaudere cibis simul et requiescere semper.

inimicus: hostile
placet (mihi)
gaza: treasure
arca: chest
cibus: food

Quis tibi, tarda Hiems, semper dormire parata,
divitias cumulat, gazas vel congregat ullas,
si ver vel aestas ante tibi nulla laborant?

aestas aestatis: summer
nulla laborant: produce nothing

Vera refers: illi, quoniam mihi multa laborant,
sunt etiam servi nostra ditione subacti.
iam mihi servantes domino, quaecumque laborant.

vera refers: you say true things
nostra ditione subacti: subjected to my dominion (ditione = dicione)

Non illis dominus, sed pauper inopsque superbus.
Nec te iam poteris per te tu pascere tantum
ni tibi qui veniet cuculus alimonia praestat.
inops inopis: weak
superbus: arrogant

Tunc respondit ovans sublime e sede Palemon
et Dafnis pariter, pastorum et turba piorum:
'Desine plura, hiems: rerum tu prodigus, atrox.
et veniat cuculus, pastorum dulcis amicus,
collibus in nostris erumpant germina laeta,
pascua sint pecori, requies et dulcis in arvis.
et virides rami praestent umbracula fessis,
uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae,
et volucres varia Phoebum sub voce salutent.
quapropter citius cuculus nunc ecce venito!
tu iam dulcis amor, cunctis gratissimus hospes.
omnia te expectant, pelagus tellusque polusque.
salve, dulce decus, cuculus per saecula salve!'

ovo: to rejoice
turba: crowd
desine plura: say no more
prodigus: wasteful
atrox atrocis: horrible
collis collis (m.): hill
erumpi erupi eruptum: to break through
pascuum: pasture
arvum: field, ploughed field
viridis,-is: green
ramum: branch
praesto praestiti praestatum: to give, provide
umbraculum: shadow
fessus: tired
uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae: and my she-goats come with full udders come to the milking –pails .(a bucket for collecting milk)
volucris volucris (f.): bird
varia sub voce: with various voices
citius: very fast
venito: imperative third singular
tellus telluris (f.): earth
polus: sky
decus decoris (n.): beauty
Translation by Helen Waddell:


The Strife between Winter and Spring

From the high mountains the shepherds came together,
Gathered in the spring light under branching trees,
Come to sing songs, Daphnis, old Palemon,
All making ready to sing the cuckoo's praises.
Thither came Spring, girdled with a garland,
Thither came Winter, with his shaggy hair.
Great strife between them on the cuckoo's singing.

Spring. I would that he were here,

Cuckoo !

Of all winged things most dear,
To every roof the most beloved guest.
Bright-billed, good songs he sings.

Winter. Let him not come,

Cuckoo !

Stay on in the dark cavern where he sleeps,
For Hunger is the company he brings.

Spring. I would that he were here,

Cuckoo !

Gay buds come with him, and the frost is gone,
Cuckoo, the age-long comrade of the sun.
The days are longer and the light serene.

Winter. Let him not come,


For toil comes with him and he wakens wars,
Breaks blessed quiet and disturbs the world,
And sea and earth alike sets travailing.

Spring. And what are you that throw your blame on him ?
That huddle sluggish in your half-lit caves
After your feasts of Venus, bouts of Bacchus ?

Winter. Riches are mine and joy of revelling,

And sweet is sleep, the fire on the hearth stone.
Nothing of these he knows, and does his treasons.

Spring. Nay, but he brings the flowers in his bright bill,
And he brings honey, nests are built for him.
The sea is quiet for his journeying,
Young ones begotten, and the fields are green.

Winter. I like not these things which are joy to you.
I like to count the gold heaped in my chests;
And feast, and then to sleep, and then to sleep.

Spring. And who, thou slug-a-bed, got thee thy wealth?
And who would pile thee any wealth at all,
If spring and summer did not toil for thee?

Winter. Thou speakest truth; indeed they toil for me.
They are my slaves, and under my dominion.
As servants for their lord, they sweat for me.

Spring. No lord, but poor and beggarly and proud.
Thou couldst not feed thyself a single day
But for his charity who comes, who comes!

Then old Palemon spake from kis high seat,
And Daphnis, and the crowd of faithful shepherds.
" Have done, have done, Winter, spendthrift and foul,
And let the shepherd's friend, the cuckoo, come.
And may the happy buds break on our hills,
Green be our grazing, peace in the ploughed fields,
Green branches give their shadow to tired men,
The goats come to the milking, udders full,
The birds call to the sun, each one his note.
Wherefore, O cuckoo, come, O cuckoo, come !
For thou art Love himself, the dearest guest,
And all things wait thee, sea and earth and sky.
All hail, beloved : through all ages, hail !

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Beda Venerabilis: repent before it is too late!

The English scholar Beda Venerabilis ( 672/673 – 26 May 735) was one of the greatest minds of the early Middle Ages . Contrary to a man like Oriosus, he was well aware that the earth is round – it is a common misunderstanding that in the Middle Ages all people were unaware of this fact.  His main work is the  Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum., an invaluable source for the history of England . What makes mediaeval historians so charming to read, is their inclusion of anecdotes, personal asides and petites histoires. In the following  extract Beda – or Bede as he is better known in English – tells of a monk personally known by him, who led a far from monastic life. We have to keep in mind that often boys and girls were sent to a monastery for receiving some education, but not all of them were fit for a life of celibacy and discipline. Neither was this man, of whom Beda does not tell us his name: an effective damnatio ex memoria!  On his sickbed the poor man calls his brethren, telling them that he has seen a place for him vacant in Hell.  `qui non vult ecclesiae ianuam sponte humiliatus ingredi, necesse habet in ianuam inferni non sponte damnatus introduci’ Is Beda’s remark `Who does not voluntary  want to enter into the door of the Church humbly, he  will be led condemned involuntarily to the door of Hell.’ His brethren urge him to repent his life, but he think it was too later now he has seen Hell open for him. Then he dies and he is buried in the farthest place of the monastery without any ritual…    

Beda Venerabilis, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, V.14:

[14] Novi autem ipse fratrem, quem utinam non nossem, cuius etiam nomen, si hoc aliquid prodesset, dicere possem; positum in monasterio nobili, sed ipsum ignobiliter viventem. Corripiebatur quidem sedulo a fratribus ac maioribus loci, atque ad castigatiorem vitam converti ammonebatur. Et quamvis eos audire noluisset, tolerabatur tamen ab eis longanimiter ob necessitatem operum ipsius exteriorum; erat enim fabrili arte singularis. Seruiebat autem multum ebrietati, et ceteris vitae remissioris inlecebris; magisque in officina sua die noctuque residere, quam ad psallendum atque orandum in ecclesia, audiendumque cum fratribus verbum vitae concurrere consuerat. Unde accidit illi, quod solent dicere quidam, quia, qui non vult ecclesiae ianuam sponte humiliatus ingredi, necesse habet in ianuam inferni non sponte damnatus introduci. Percussus enim languore, atque ad extrema perductus, vocavit fratres, et multum maerens ac damnato similis coepit narrare, quia videret inferos apertos, et Satanan demersum in profundis tartari, Caiphanque cum ceteris, qui occiderunt Dominum, iuxta eum flammis ultricibus contraditum: ‘in quorum uicinia,’ inquit, ‘heu misero mihi locum despicio aeternae perditionis esse praeparatum.’ Audientes haec fratres coeperunt diligenter exhortari, ut vel tunc positus adhuc in corpore, paenitentiam faceret. Respondebat ille desperans: ‘Non est mihi modo tempus vitam mutandi, cum ipse uiderim iudicium meum iam esse conpletum.’
Talia dicens, sine viatico salutis obiit, et corpus eius in ultimis est monasterii locis humatum, neque aliquis pro eo vel missas facere, vel psalmos cantare, vel saltim orare praesumebat. O quam grandi distantia divisit Deus inter lucem et tenebras!

utinam:  I wish that
nossem = novissem
si hoc aliquid prodesset:  if there would by any use in this  (but Bede has condemned him to  damnatio ex memoria!)
corripio correpi correptum: to reproach, blame
sedulo (adv!): busily, sedulously
maioribus loci: i.e. those who had a higher rank than monk
longanimiter: patiently
operum ipsius exteriorum: of his outward labour  (as opposed to his unwillingness of doing  inward labour of improving his character.)
fabrili arte singularis: exceptional in handwork art
ebreitas –atis (f.): drunkenness
ceteris uitae remissioris inlecebris: the further attractions of a very careless life
officina: workplace
psallo psalli : to sing psalms
verbum vitae: the Bible
sponte: voluntarily
necesse habet + inf. : litt. `he has it necessary to’  he needs to be (This construction not uncommon in the Vulgate)
introduco: to lead into
percussus enim languore: for when he was struck down by illness
ad extrema perductus: going to his final hour
maereo: to grieve
inferi –orum: the underworld
Caiphan: Caiaphas, the Jewish high-priest who plotted the death of Jesus
eum: Satan
flammis ultricibus contraditum: delivered to flames of revenge (contrado is a Late Latin word)
ut vel tunc positus adhuc in corpore: while as yet still placed in his body
viatico salutis: a viaticum salutis is the final communion before one dies
saltim (saltem): at least
praesumo praesumpsi praesumptum: to dare (late meaning)