Sunday, 30 March 2014

Phaedrus 2.2: two women.

In this fable Phaedrus tells about the dangers of women. A middle-aged man is loved by an old woman, who conceals her age by make up and by a young girl. Both want the man to look like them and the old women starts plucking the black hairs and the young one the white. The result is obvious.
Somehow I find this story not convincing: would I be in such a situation, I would not bother at all about the old hag with make up. Further: why wasn’t the old woman jealous and didn’t scratch the eyes out of her far younger rival or poison her?
What I do like, is that in the title the middle aged man is referred to as a iuvenis. I will keep that in mind when younger friends make fun of my age: Ho, ho, ho! Ego quoque iuvenis sum!

Phaedrus Book 2, fable 2: Anus Diligens Iuvenem, Item Puella
(Metre: 6 feet iambic, spondees are allowed too.)

A feminis utcumque spoliari viros,
ament, amentur, nempe exemplis discimus.
Aetatis mediae quendam mulier non rudis
tenebat, annos celans elegantia,
animosque eiusdem pulchra iuvenis ceperat.
ambae, videri dum volunt illi pares,
capillos homini legere coepere invicem.
qui se putaret fingi cura mulierum,
calvus repente factus est; nam funditus
canos puella, nigros anus evellerat.

anus: old woman   
utcumque: in whatever way
spolio: to plunder
ament, amentur: whether they etc.
nempe: certainly
quendam (virum)
rudis: unpretty
teneo tenui: (here) to love
celo: to conceal
elegantia: make up
par, paris (+ dat.): equal to
capillus: hair
homini: dativus incommodi!
legere: here in te original meaning `to collect, pluck’ (to read = to pick up letters. The German/Dutch `lesen/lezen’(`to read’) is a loan translation from Latin legere: the original meaning of this word was also `to pick up, choose’, but that meaning has completely vanished in the modern usage of these languages.)
invicem: in turn
fingi cura: to be made up by the care
calvus: bald
repente: suddenly
funditus (adv.): completely
canus: grey
evello evelli evulsum: to tear out
Verse translation and adapation by Christopher Smart M.A. (London, 1887):


Fondling or fondled—any how—
(Examples of all times allow)
That men by women must be fleeced.
   A dame, whose years were well increased,
But skill’d t’ affect a youthful mien,
 Was a staid husband’s empress queen;
Who yet sequester’d half his heart
For a young damsel, brisk and smart.
They, while each wanted to attach
Themselves to him, and seem his match,
Began to tamper with his hair.
He, pleased with their officious care,
Was on a sudden made a coot;
For the young strumpet, branch and root,
Stripp’d of the hoary hairs his crown,
E’en as th’ old cat grubb’d up the brown.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Historia Augusta: Hadrian has to deal with old men.

The Historia Augusta is a collection of biographies of emperors between 117-284. The author or authors  are unknown but the date of composition is generally believed to be at the end of the 4th century. The trustworthiness is a major problem, but unfortunately it is often the only source. I have no clue if the following anecdote is true, but as the Italians say: se non è vero, è ben trovato.
Emperor Hadrian (117-138) used to go bathing in a public bath house. At one of these visits he sees there a veteran known to him, who rubs is back against the marble wall. Generous as he is, Hadrian gives a slave to the man for rubbing him. The next time when he visits the bath house, there are numerous old men rubbing their backs against the marble walls...                                                                                   

Historia Augusta, Hadrianus, 17, 5-7:

5 Omnes reges muneribus suis vicit. Publice frequenter et cum omnibus lavit. 6 Ex quo ille iocus balnearis innotuit : nam cum quodam tempore veteranum quendam notum sibi in militia dorsum et ceteram partem corporis vidisset adterere parieti, percontatus, cur se marmoribus destringendum daret, ubi audivit hoc idcirco fieri, quod servum non haberet, et servis eum donavit et sumptibus. 7 Verum alia die cum plures senes ad provocandam liberalitatem principis parieti se adtererent, evocari eos iussit et alium ab alio invicem defricari.

munus muneris (n.): gift
vicit: i.e. Hadrianus
vinco vici victum: to surpass someone (acc.) in (abl.)
balnearis – e: pertaining to a bath (iocus balnearis: bathing joke
innotesco innotui: to become famous
notum sibi in militia: known to him from the army
dorsum: back
adtero adtrivi adtritum: to rub
paries parietis (m.): wall
perconto: to ask
cur se marmoribus destringendum daret: why he gave himself unclothed (litt. `having to be unclothed’) to the marble
idcirco: for that reason
sumptus -us (m.): money for covering expenditures
ad provocandam liberalitatem principis: for appealing to the generosity of the emperor
invicem: in turn
defrico defricui defricatum: to rub hard

Saturday, 22 March 2014


Many Mediaeval Latin secular songs contain parodies of ecclesiastical hymns. This drinking song begins with the first line of a sixth century hymn for the morning office and stanza 5 is a parody of the last line of the Athanasian Creed. The song is simple, which must be, as it admonishes to drink all day, though I am not sure how it would be performed at the end of hours of drinking, simple as it is…

Iam lucis orto sidere,
statim oportet bibere:
bibamus nunc egregie
et rebibabus hodie.

Quicumque vult esse frater,
bibat semel, bis, ter, quater:
bibat semel et secundo,
donec nihil sit in fundo.

Bibat ille, bibat illa,
bibat servus et ancilla,
bibat hera, bibat herus,
ad bibendum nemo serus.

potatoribus pro cunctis,
pro captivis et defunctis,
pro imperatore et papa,
bibo vinum sine aqua.

Haec est fides potatica,
sociorum spes unica,
qui bene non potaverit,
salvus esse non poterit.

Longisima potatio
sit nobis salutatio:
et duret ista ratio
per infinita secula.


Iam lucis orto sidere: abl. abs.: now the star of light has arisen.
egregie: exceedingly
fundus: bottom (Ad fundum is still used when someone – mostly a student – drinks his or her glass in one draught.)
herus/hera: master, lord/ mistress, lady (In classical Latin without h. The word herus is not related to German Herr.)
serus: late (nemo serus sit.)
potator –oris (m.): drinker
pro defunctis: alludes to the missa pro defunctis, the requiem mass.
sine aqua: normally wine was mixed with water.
Haec…poterit:  cf. the end of the Athanasian creed: Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit. `This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.’
fides potatica: the drinking faith
poto potavi potum: to drink
salutatio –onis (f.): not `greeting’ here, but `salvation’.
duro (durare): to continue
per infinita secula: for ever

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Sulpicia 1: I am in love!

Voices of women are but rarely heard in classical literature. Yes, there is Sappho, of whom just a few poems have survived intact, many fragmented and dozens must have been lost. In her poems she has achieved an unsurpassed quality, but who else do we have? Well, there is Sulpicia of whom 6 elegies have survived in the Corpus Tibullianum, the manuscripts containing the elegies of Tibullus, but also poems from other poets. Little is known about her (see the link below.)
She is quite frank in expressing her erotic feelings, that is to say for a woman of that period.  For this reason it has been claimed that behind Sulpicia is a male poet, using the persona of a woman. But why should he use the name of a woman who could easily be identified with an existing person?
From her poems it seems that she had an affair with a certain Cerinthus – almost certainly a pseudonym. I say seems, because it is not certain that these poems reflect a real situation: it could well have been an exercise in writing love elegies within a circle of friends. However, romantic as I am, I am ready to believe it is real.
This poem has some problems: the syntax in 1-2 is constrained, but more problematic are lines 7-8 for which see the notes.

Sulpicia 1 (= Tibullus 4.7 or 3.13 in another arrangement of the books).

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
    quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
Exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
    adtulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.                     
Exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
    dicetur siquis non habuisse sua.                                                       
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
    ne legat ut nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus conponere famae
    taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

qualem texisse pudori /  quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis. Construct: mihi fama magis pudori sit: for me my reputation would be more till shame = it would be more shameful for my reputation    to etc.
tego texi tectum: to cover, hide
nudo: to expose, uncover
exorata meis Camenis: persuaded by my Muses (i.e. (probably) previous poems.)
illum: her lover Cerinthus    
Cytherea: Venus          
sinus –us (m.): bosom                
exsolvo exsolvi exsolitum: to unbind, fulfil        
sua (gaudia)
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis  /  me legat ut nemo quam meus ante, velim. Another reading is:
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis, / ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim.
This reading is adopted by many editors and translators and will be found on the Perseus and Latin Library sites.  However it has problems: non with velim or mandare? Ne nemo as a strong negation (absolutely no one) or are the negations cancelling each other out (everybody). Many go for non with mandare and ne nemo as a strong negation. The meaning is then: `I would wish that I had not to entrust anything to sealed letters (signatis tabellis), so that absolutely no one could read them before my love.’ But isn’t the point that she wants to cry out her love to the whole world – secret of not? The reading I have adopted (from the Ambrosianus Ms and found in the OCT edition by Postgate) states the opposite: `I won’t want to entrust anything to sealed letters, so that no one can read them before my love.’ This also would go better with the next lines.
(Could it be that the reading ne legat id nemo was adopted to make Sulpicia more harmless?)
sed peccasse(= peccavisse) iuvat: So Sulpicia is proud of her `sin’.
vultus conponere famae: to put a face on, keep the appearance for the sake of reputation (famae: dative.)
cum digno digna fuisse ferar: I might be said to have been an equal with an equal (In sinning and in love.)

Two renditions of this poem in English:

C.W.Conrad (with me legat ut.)

At last has come a love I'd blush to hide
more than I'd fear the fame of secret bared.
The one I prayed to Venus for in verse
she brought me, laid him down upon my breast.
Venus has done her part; my joys proclaim,
if girl there be that's never had her own!
I'm not for sealing any secret in a note
to let my lover be the first to read!
My sin's my joy! To care what others think
annoys me; let them bruit my grand amour.

Anne Mahoney (with the reading ne legat id nemo.)

 At last the love I've waited for has come.
(No shame to say so: more to cover up).
My Camenae called on her in prayer,
and Cytherea brought him to my heart.
5Venus kept her promise: now she can tell
my tale of joy to those who don't believe.
I hardly want to give this letter up
so no one else sees it before he does.
I'm glad I did it — why wear a prudish mask,
as if he wasn't good enough for me!