Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tibullus 2.2: happy birthday Cornutus!

It is an advantage to have a famous poet amongst your friends as you might be immortalized in one of his – or her - poems. This happened to some Cornutus, who was befriended with Tibullus. Cornutus could be M. Cornutus, praetor urbanus (magistrate for civil cases at Rome) in 43 BC., but this in no way certain. Tibullus is hardly read anymore at schools, so this immortality has its limits, but it is better than nothing. I have no poet amongst my friends…
The following poem is for Cornutus’ birthday. He is also just married or about to marry.

Tibullus Elegies 2.2

Dicamus bona verba: venit Natalis ad aras:
    quisquis ades, lingua, vir mulierque, faue.
urantur pia tura focis, urantur odores
    quos tener e terra divite mittit Arabs.
ipse suos Genius adsit visurus honores,
    cui decorent sanctas mollia serta comas.
illius puro destillent tempora nardo,
    atque satur libo sit madeatque mero,
adnuat et, Cornute, tibi, quodcumque rogabis.
    en age (quid cessas? adnuit ille) roga.
auguror, uxoris fidos optabis amores:
    iam reor hoc ipsos edidicisse deos.
nec tibi malueris, totum quaecumque per orbem
    fortis arat valido rusticus arva bove,
nec tibi, gemmarum quidquid felicibus Indis
    nascitur, Eoi qua maris unda rubet.
uota cadunt: utinam strepitantibus advolet alis
    flavaque coniugio vincula portet Amor,
vincula quae maneant semper dum tarda senectus
    inducat rugas inficiatque comas.
haec veniat, Natalis, avis prolemque ministret,
    ludat et ante tuos turba novella pedes.

bona verba: not just good or friendly words, but words which won’t bring any harm to the birthday rituals.
Natalis: genius Natalis, the genius of birth, a protective spirit, who accompanied every individual till his or her death.
ara: altar
fave lingua: be silent! (a solemn expression)
uro ussi ustum: to burn
tus turis (n.): incense
focus: fire-place
tener Arabs: because of their rich country (terra dives) Arabs were seen as weak and effeminate.
suos honores: the honores for a birthday consisted of incense, wine (merum) and a cake (libum). The hair (coma) of the statue of the genius was decorated with garlands (serta) and the temple of the head (tempus, -oris, n.) smeared with nard-oil (nardum).
destillo (destillare): to drip
satur satura saturum (+ abl.): full
madeo madui (+ abl.): to be wet
adnuo adnui: to nod, to approve by nodding
en age: come on!
cesso: to delay, hesitate
auguror auguratus sum: to predict
Eium mare: the whole ocean between Arabia and India
iam reor hoc ipsos edidicisse deos: I reckon (reor ratus sum) that the gods know this very well (litt. have learnt this by heart) by now (As Cornutus must have often prayed for this.)
nec tibi malueris, totum quaecumque per orbem fortis arat valido rusticus arva bove = nec tibi malueris quaecumque arva per totum orbem fortis rusticus valido bove arat: nor do you prefer for yourself whatever fields (arvum) on the whole world a strong farmer ploughs (aro) with a robust ox.
gemma: gem
rubet: the gulf is red because of the nearness of the rising sun.
cadunt: turn out favourably (a term from playing dice.)
strepitantibus alis: with rustling wings
flavaque coniugio vincula: and a yellow fetter for your marriage (yellow is the colour of a marriage and flavus has in this context also the connotation `ardent’.)
tardus: sluggish
induco induxi: to bring
ruga: wrinkle
inficio infeci infectum: to infect, spoil
haec avis: the wingend Amor
proles prolis (f.): offspring
turba novella: a new crowd (i.e. grandchildren)

I could find only this rendering into English verse by Theodore C. Williams from 1908:

Burn incense now! and round our altars fair
    With cheerful vows or sacred silence stand!
  To-day Cerinthus' birth our rites declare,
    With perfumes from the blest Arabian land.

  Let his own Genius to our festal haste,
    While fresh-blown flowers his heavenly tresses twine
  And balm-anointed brows; so let him taste
    Our offered loaf and sweet, unstinted wine!

  To thee Cerinthus may his favoring care
    Grant every wish! O claim some priceless meed!
  Ask a fond wife thy life-long bliss to share—
    Nay! This the great gods have long since decreed!

  Less than this gift were lordship of wide fields,
    Where slow-paced yoke and swain compel the corn;
  Less, all rich gems the womb of India yields,
    Where the flushed Ocean rims the shores of Morn.

  Thy vow is granted! Lo! on pinions bright,
    The Love-god comes, a yellow cincture bearing,
  To bind thee ever to thy dear delight,
    In nuptial knot, all other knots outwearing.

  When wrinkles delve, and o'er the reverend brow
    Fall silver locks and few, the bond shall be
  But more endeared; and thou shall bless this vow
    O'er children's children smiling at thy knee.

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