This week I returned from a short holiday to Normandy and Brittany. A lovely countryside with many remains from the Middle Ages and megalithic structures. I went with two friends and we did it the way the Roman army did: camping in our tents. Being all in our fifties we were by far the oldest at the various campsites. We visited inter alia the city of Caen, where the impressive fortress of William the Conqueror still towers above the city. His grave is in an enormous cathedral, built after the battle of Hastings. My first intention was to present a Latin text about him in my blog, but I am afraid I have found nothing really interesting. There is the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio by bishop Guy of Amiens, but to be honest, it is a most boring piece of literature. Not everything is worthy of reading simply because it is in Latin…
Let us go to another war: Propertius is having trouble with Amor. He is already in love and Amor doesn’t stop shooting more arrows.
The iconography of Amor or Cupid as we know it today, was developed in the Hellenistic period and Propertius is contemplating how aptly the first painter of Amor has depicted this god. But those wings! Why does Amor not fly away? Has he lost his wings? Amor, listen! I have already praised you in my poems and if you want more poems, stop shooting as otherwise I will be too exhausted to write more!
Propertius , Elegies 2,12
Quicumque ille fuit, puerum qui pinxit Amorem,
nonne putas miras hunc habuisse manus?
is primum vidit sine sensu vivere amantis,
et levibus curis magna perire bona.
idem non frustra ventosas addidit alas,
fecit et humano corde volare deum:
scilicet alterna quoniam iactamur in unda,
nostraque non ullis permanet aura locis.
et merito hamatis manus est armata sagittis,
et pharetra ex umero Cnosia utroque iacet:
ante ferit quoniam, tuti quam cernimus hostem,
nec quisquam ex illo vulnere sanus abit.
in me tela manent, manet et puerilis imago:
sed certe pennas perdidit ille suas;
evolat heu nostro quoniam de pectore nusquam,
assiduusque meo sanguine bella gerit.
quid tibi iucundum est siccis habitare medullis?
si pudor est, alio traice tela una!
intactos isto satius temptare veneno:
non ego, sed tenuis vapulat umbra mea.
quam si perdideris, quis erit qui talia cantet,
(haec mea Musa levis gloria magna tua est),
qui caput et digitos et lumina nigra puellae,
et canat ut soleant molliter ire pedes?
puerum: as a boy
pingo pinxi pictum: to paint
miras manus: skilful hands
is: the painter
sine sensu: without thinking, i.e. as children
amantis = amantes
et levibus curis magna perire bona: as lovers are only interested in each other, they do not think about the future – like children- and so may lose (per-eo) great goods they will otherwise have acquired.
non frustra: not in vain, justly
ventosas alas: wings full of wind
(in) humano corde
alterna unda: rolling wave
iactamur (ab Amore)
nostra aura: the wind that we are
hamatis saggitis: with hooked arrows, i.e. arrows which can’t easily be removed
pharetra Cnosia: a quiver from Cnosos. Cnosos was the ancient capital of Crete, which was said to have excellent archers
ex umero utroque iacet: hangs on each of his shoulders
ante ferit quoniam, tuti quam cernimus hostem: because he hits (ferio) us, before (antequam) we see the enemy, (believing we are) save.
ex illo vulnere: without that wound
perdo perdidi perditum: to lose
evolo: to fly away
siccis medullis: in dry marrow, i.e. the poet is already exhausted by love and doesn’t need more arrows!
si pudor est: if there is any shame in you
traicio traieci traiectum: to shoot
intactos isto satius temptare veneno: it is enough to try on those (yet) untouched by that poison
vapula: to be beaten
perdideris (me)molliter: in a gentle way
Fresco of Amor at Pompei
Translation by A.S. Klyne:
Whoever he was who first depicted Amor as a boy, don’t you think it was a wonderful touch? He was the first to see that lovers live without sense, and that great good is lost in trivial cares. Also, with meaning, he added the wings of the wind, and made the god hover in the human heart: true, since we’re thrown about on shifting winds, and the breeze never lingers in one place.
And it’s right that his hand should grip barbed arrows, and the Cretan quiver hang across his shoulders, since he hits us before we safely see the enemy, and no one escapes unwounded from his hurt.
His darts remain with me, and his form, a boy, but surely he must have lost his wings, since he never stirs anywhere but in my heart, and, oh, wages endless war in my blood.
What joy is it for you, Amor, to inhabit my thirsty heart? If you know shame, transfer your war elsewhere: better to try those innocent of your poison. It’s not me you hit: it’s only my tenuous shadow.
If you destroy me, who’ll be left to sing like this? (This slender Muse of mine is your great glory.) Who will sing the face, the hands, or the dark eyes of my girl, or how sweetly her footsteps are accustomed to fall.