Thursday, 26 June 2014

Johannis de Capua: a most welcome thief!

Johannis de Capua (1250-1310) was an Italian Jew who converted to Christianity. Not much is known about him, except that he translated Hebrew works into Latin. One of these works was the Kalilah wa-Dimnah by Rabbi Joel. This work was a translation of  an Arabic  translation of a Persian translation of the Sanskrit Pañcatantra. The Pañcatantra is a collection of fables and stories with a loose frame story dating from about the third century BC. In Persian version the frame story was widely altered and expanded, but the fables and stories were more or less the same.
The translation into Latin became widely popular and in due time it was translated into various European Languages. The Latin of Johannis de Capua is more than terrible regarding classical syntax and morphology, but the language itself is not difficult to follow. As a comparison I have included an English translation of the original Sanskrit by Arthur W. Ryder (1877-1938), American professor of Sanskrit and a most gifted translator. Compare the Latin and see how much has been lost during the transmission of Pañcatantra.
In the following story an old merchant had a beautiful wife, who refused to come close to him at night. Then a thief enters the house and she is scared…

Johannis de Capua, Directorium humanae vitae alias Parabolae antiquorum sapientium, 5,5

Dicitur fuisse quidam dives mercator senex valde, qui, cum haberet uxorem pulcram, non tamen ab ea diligebatur, nec volebat sibi uxor sua in lecto adhaerere, sed quantumcunque ipse traheret ad se, illa semper elongabat se ab eo. Quadam vero nocte, dum iacerent simul in lecto, supervenit eis fur; et excitata mulier ad strepitum furis expavit, et accedens prae timore adhaesit viro suo fortiter donec excitatus est. Et ait vir suae uxori: Unde hoc novum, quia mihi adhaesisti nunc magis quam unquam? Et attendens vir audivit strepitum furis in domum; tunc percepit, quia ex timore furis adhaesit sibi uxor sua; et ait furi paterfamilias: Magnam gratiam reputo te mihi nocte ista contulisse, de quo tibi teneor cunctis diebus vitae meae, postquam fuisti causa, ut amplexaretur mihi uxor mea. Nunc autem accipe quaecunque vis, et omnia tibi de domo mea licita sunt.

valde: very
cum haberet uxorem pulchram: In the original Sanskrit story the old merchant was a widower who remarried a young girl. (see below)
diligo dilexi dilectum: to love
lectus: bed
adhaereo adhaesi adhaesum: to stick
quantumcunque: as soon as
elongo: to remove
iacio ieci iactum: to lay
supervenio = venio (Mediaeval Latin loves using prefixed verbs without much difference from the simplex .)
fur furis (m,): thief
strepitus –us (m.): noise
expavesco expavui: to become afraid
accido accidi: to come
attendo attendi attentum: to give attention
Magnam gratiam reputo te mihi nocte ista contulisse: I think I have owed you great thanks this night
de quo tibi teneor cunctis diebus vitae meae: for which I am obliged to you (litt. kept/hold by you) during all days of my life
amplector amplectus sum: to embrace (amplexaretur = amplexa esset. Nothing is impossible for God and writers for some Mediaeval Latin at their worst: non-existent Latin forms are created ex nihilo.)
licitus: allowed, permitted

The Sanskrit original translated by Arthur W. Ryder, The Panchatantra (Chicago, 1925)

There was once an aged merchant in a certain town, and his name was Lovelorn. To such an extent
had love clouded his reason that, when his wife died, he gave much money in order to marry the daughter of a penniless shopkeeper. But the girl was heartbroken and could not bear to look at the old merchant. This, indeed, might have been anticipated.

The silvered head will sue in vain,
A maiden's love beseeching;
The maid, despising it, is fain
To flee afar with screeching;
Like Hangman's Well it causes pain.
Where dead men's bones are bleaching.

And furthermore:

Slow, tottering steps the strength exhaust;
The eye unsteady blinks;
From driveling mouth the teeth are lost;
The handsome figure shrinks;
The limbs are wrinkled; relatives
And wife contemptuous pass;
The son no further honor gives
To doddering age. Alas!

Now one night, while she was turning her back to him in bed, a thief entered the house. And she was
terrified at seeing a thief, and embraced her husband, old as he was. He, for his part, felt every limb thrill with astonishment and love, and he thought: "Gracious me! Why does she hug me tonight?" Then, peering narrowly about, he discovered the thief in a corner, and reflected: "No doubt she embraces me from fear of him." So he said to the thief:

"She who always shrank from me.
Hugs me to her breast;
Thank you, benefactor! Take
What you like the best."

And the thief made reply:

"Nothing here that I should like;
Should I want a thing.
I'll return if she does not
Passionately cling."

Thus advantage may be anticipated from a benefactor, thief though he be.

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