Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ausonius, epigram 14: last time making love?

Some time ago I published a post with an epigram of Ausonius (c. 310 – c. 395). I noticed I still had the edition with commentary by Nigel Kay I borrowed from the library and more or less at random I picked another epigram. There are echoes in the various lined  from Rufinus, Martial , Tibullus and Horace - as a teacher of rhetoric  Ausonius Greek and Latin literature must have had no secrets for him - but the epigram itself is almost unique in its theme: the man of an elderly couple encourages his wife to have sex. Formerly she had not the will and now she has not the beauty and she regrets (nunc piget) her former abstinence.  As for him, he will enjoy (fruar quod volui), what he once desired, but his desire has now gone (etsi non quod volo).
A good epigram captures in a few sentences a situation. It is like a sketch by a painter, who with a few strokes of charcoal or whatever draws a picture, but leaving many details out. We can only guess and fill in according to our imagination. This epigram too raises questions. For sure, it is not autobiographical, as Ausonius’ first wife died at a young age and his second wife was much younger, but he draws a picture for us the readers, which has a touch of melancholy and sadness the reasons for it we can only guess.

Ausonius, epigram 14.

Dicebam tibi : " Galla, senescimus; effugit aetas,
   utere rene tuo  casta puella anus est."
Sprevisti, obrepsit non intellecta senectus
   nec revocare potes, qui periere, dies, .
Nunc piget, et quereris, quod non aut ista voluntas .
   tunc fuit aut non est nunc ea forma tibi.
Da tamen amplexus oblitaque gaudia iunge:
   da: fruar - etsi non quod volo, quod volui.

dicebam:  I used to say
senescimus: present stems in  –sc-  denote a process `we are getting older’
aetas: (here) youth
utere rene tuo: This is the reading of the manuscripts and N.M. Kay has defended this reading against the conjecture vere. The renes are the kidneys and occur mostly in the plural. In later Latin it can also mean `loins’.  Kay advocates a shift of meaning of the singular to a euphemism for cunno (but in his translation he decently opts for `loins’)
sperno sprevi spretum: to despise
obrepo obrepsi obreptum: to approach stealthily (enforced by non intellecta `unperceived’)
periere  = perierunt
piget (te): you regret
queror questus sum: to complain, bewail
forma: beauty
amplexus –us (m.): embracing

Translation: HUGH G. EVELYN WHITE, M.A. (1921). (Note: even for that time his translations are old-fashioned, but they have the benefit of having no copyright)  

I used to say to thee : '' Galla, we grow old, Time flies away, enjoy thy life : a chaste girl is an old
woman." Thou didst scorn my warning. Age has crept upon thee unperceived, nor canst thou call
back the days that are gone. Now thou art sorry and dost lament, either because then thou wert dis-
inclined, or because now thou hast not that former beauty. Yet give me thine embrace and share for-
gotten joys with me. Give : I will take, albeit not what I would, yet what I once would.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Propertius 2.26: a dream.

I am back from a well-deserved holiday in Belgrade and am now back home, which is as disorganized as I left it. Fortunately I am still able to find the books I need – mostly that is.
Fear of what might happen to those we love can haunt us in our dreams. In the following poem Propertius has a dream about his mistress Cynthia drowning. She was completely helpless and in her final hour she confessed all her lies towards him.
Reading this poem, a poem by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1888) came to my mind:

Mir träumt', ich komm ans Himmelstor
und finde dich, die Süße!
Du saßest bei dem Quell davor
und wuschest dir die Füße.

Du wuschest, wuschest ohne Rast
den blendend weißen Schimmer,
begannst mit wunderlicher Hast
dein Werk von neuem immer.

Ich frug: "Was badest du dich hier
mit tränennassen Wangen?"
Du sprachts: "Weil ich im Staub mit dir,
so tief im Staub gegangen."

I dreamt I came at heaven’s gate
and found you there, my darling!
You were sitting at the well in front
and  was washing your feet.

You were washing, washing without rest
the blinding white glow,
starting with a strange hurry
your work every time anew .

I asked: `What are you bathing here
with your cheeks wet from tears?’
You spoke: `Because through dust with you,
through dust so deep I have gone.’

In this poem the attitude is reversed: the poet realizes in his dream what wrong he has done towards his girlfriend.  Propertius dreams that Cynthia is confessing her sins. I don’t claim that these poems reflect real dreams – of course not, but that makes the difference in attitude even more interesting: I wonder whether a Roman poet could be so self-critical in his poems and so fully aware of his failure towards his love. As far as I remember it is always the woman who is to blame for failure in a relationship.
I cannot help thinking that though Propertius fears for the life of Cynthia, there is more than a touch of satisfaction in her confessing. Indeed the comparison with Helle and the references to all kinds of sea-deities gives this poem a false pathos – at least for me, through which we may question the seriousness of the whole poem. Not to speak of Cynthia calling Propertius’ name with her fingers barely above the waters. Yes indeed, Propertius, you wish! Keep dreaming! Oh wait, you did…


VIDI te in somnis fracta, mea vita, carina
    Ionio lassas ducere rore manus,
et, quaecumque in me fueras mentita, fateri,
    nec iam umore gravis tollere posse comas,
qualem purpureis agitatam fluctibus Hellen,
    aurea quam molli tergore vexit ovis.
quam timui, ne forte tuum mare nomen haberet,
    atque tua labens navita fleret aqua!
quae tum ego Neptuno, quae tum cum Castore fratri,
    quaeque tibi excepi, iam dea, Leucothoe!
at tu vix primas extollens gurgite palmas
    saepe meum nomen iam peritura vocas.
quod si forte tuos vidisset Glaucus ocellos,
    esses Ionii facta puella maris,
et tibi ob invidiam Nereides increpitarent,
    candida Nesaee, caerula Cymothoe.
sed tibi subsidio delphinum currere vidi,
    qui, puto, Arioniam vexerat ante lyram.
iamque ego conabar summo me mittere saxo,
    cum mihi discussit talia visa metus.

Vidi:  the dependent infinitives are ducere, fateri, posse
fracta carina:  abl. abs.  carina (keel) is pars pro toto for ship
Ionio rore: in the foam of the Ionian Sea. ros roris (m.) means primarily `dew’, but also `foam’.
in me: towards me
manus ducere: spreading out the arms (for swimming) – note the melodramatic lassas `tired’.
mentior mentitus sum: to lie cheat
fateor fassus sum: to confess
comas (hair) heavy (gravis = graves) by the water
qualem …Hellen instead of vidi te talem ducere manus, qualis erat Helle, quem
Helle: she tried to escape from Ino on the golden ram, who carried her on his soft back, but fell into the water which is now called Hellespont and moved forward by the purple waves (purpureis agitatam fluctibus) she drowned
ovis: note that the word is feminine, but in the myth it is a ram
quam: how much!
forte: by chance
navita =  nauta
(in) tua aqua
labens: labi is also used for `to sail’
quae excipi + dat. : what things I have vowed to
Neptunus, the brothers Castor and Pollux and Leucothoe are all connected with the sea. Leucothoe is another name for Ino, who in a moment of madness jumped into the sea and was turned into a goddess.
primas palmas: finger tips
(ex) gurgite: out of the gulf
peritura: about to die
Glaucos: sea-deity
esses puella facta: you would have been made a mermaid
increpito: to harass
Nereides: the 50 mermaids sisters to whom white Nesaee and bleu Cymothoe belong.
subsidio: for rescue, aid
Arioniam lyram: referring to the well-known story of the rescue of the singer Arion by a dolphin
ante: adverb!
conabar  me mittere: I was about throw myself
(de) summon saxo (but why do that when there is already a dolphin?)
discuto discussi discussum: to shatter
cum mihi discussit talia visa metus: we all have the experience of waking up from a bad dream at the moment danger is most imminent…

Book II.26:1-20 A dream of shipwreck
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2002, 2008

        I saw you, in my dreams, mea vita, shipwrecked, striking out, with weary hands, at Ionian waters, confessing the many ways you lied to me, unable to lift your head, hair heavy with brine, like Helle, whom once the golden ram carried on his soft back, driven through the dark waves.

        How frightened I was, that perhaps that sea would bear your name, and the sailors would weep for you, as they sailed your waters! What gifts I entertained for Neptune, for Castor and his brother, what gifts for you Leucothoe, now a goddess! At least, like one about to die, you called my name, often, barely lifting your fingertips above the deep.

        Yet if Glaucus had seen your eyes, by chance, you’d have become a mermaid among Ionian seas, and the Nereids would have chided you, from envy, white Nesaee and sea-green Cymothoe. But I saw a dolphin leap to aid you, who once before, I think, bore Arion’s lyre. And already I was about to dive myself from a high rock, when fear woke me from such visions.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A strong warning against garden thieves!

When you open a modern edition of Catullus, you will notice that the poem 18-20 are lacking. Although these poems form part of the manuscript tradition of Catullus, scholars don’t regard them as genuine since the last hundred years or so. The fact that the same poems also appear in some manuscripts of the Appendix Virgiliana shows that ancient scholars and editors were also puzzled about the authorship of these poems. This poem was nuber 20 in the old editions pf Catullus.
They belong to so-called Priapeia, sometimes slightly or more than slightly obscene poems put in the mouth of Priapus, often not without a touch of humour. Priapus is the predecessor of the modern garden gnome and thanks to some mischievous friends I am now the proud owner of two of these creatures. Alas, they don’t have that mentula to ward of robbers…
Priapic poems were hung or inscribed on statues of Priapus. They contained warnings against thieves and passers-by (viatores) not to take away anything.
The owner of this Priapus is clearly not so well off, as the statue is made of poplar wood and this Priapus explicitly tells us. This does not prevent him from being self-conscious: look at the anaphoric ego and mihi.

Meter: trimester iambic (i.e. 3 feet of each two iambs. The very first iamb can be replaced by an anapaest and the initial short position of each foot can be replaced by a long position.)

Ego haec ego arte fabricata rustica,
ego arida, o viator, ecce populus
agellulum hunc, sinistra, tute quem vides,
herique villulam, hortulumque pauperis
5             tuor, malasque furis arceo manus.
Mihi corolla picta vero ponitur:
mihi rubens arista sole fervido:
mihi virente dulcis uva pampino:
mihique glauca duro oliva frigore.
10          Meis capella delicata pascuis
in urbem adulta lacte portat ubera:
meisque pinguis agnus ex ovilibus
gravem domum remittit aere dexteram:
tenerque, matre mugiente, vaccula
15          deum profundit ante templa sanguinem.
Proin, viator, hunc Deum vereberis,
manumque sorsum habebis: hoc tibi expedit.
Parata namque crux, sine arte mentula.
               Velim pol, inquis: at pol ecce, villicus
20          venit: valente cui revulsa brachio
fit ista mentula apta clava dexterae.

Ego…tuor (= tueor): I guard (the accusatives  are the objects of this verb)
ego haec fabricata rustica arida populus
aridus: dry
populus (f.): poplar
agellulus: a very small field (diminutive of ager)
sinistra: at your left
tute: emphatic tu (a better reading is sinistra et ante: at your left and behind
herus/erus: master
villula: small villa
arceo arcui: to protect
fur furis (m.): thief
The four lines staring with mihi describe the four seasons, starting with spring.
corolla: small garland
ponitur goes with all the clauses
arista: ear of grain
pampinus: a foliage of vine
glauca oliva: bright olive oil (oliva is plura. Another and perhaps better reading is mihi coacta oliva: thickened (by the cold) olive oil. The adjective glaucus is quite rare.)
capella: she-goat (diminutive of caper)
pascuum: pasture
adulta lacte ubera: udders full with milk
meis pinguis ex ovillibus: from my fat sheep pastures (oville)
gravem domum remittit aere dexteram: brings home the right hand (of the master) heavy with money
matre mugiente: while the mother is lowing
vaccula: heifer
deum = deorum
profundo profudi profusum: to pour out
proin = proinde: hence
vereor veritus sum: to respect (the future, like the next one, is used as an imperative.)
manumque sorsum habebis:  and have your hand up! (implying that the hand of the viator was already down for picking some fruit.)
hoc tibi expedit: this is profitable for you (or if we take it with the next sentence: this is prepared for you.
Parata namque crux, sine arte mentula: my artless male organ is ready to serve as your cross (or `as your punishment’)
pol = edepol: by Pollux
villicus: tenant of a farm, but maybe here just the farmer
valente brachio: in his strong arm
revello revelli revulsum: to tear out
clava: club (apta clava is apposition to mentula)
dexterae (manui)

Translations: the Metrical Part by Capt. Sir Richard F. Burton, R.C.M.G.,F.R.G.S., etc., etc., etc., and the Prose Portion by Leonard C. Smithers

To Priapus.

I thuswise fashionèd by rustic art
And from dried poplar-trunk (O traveller!) hewn,
This fieldlet, leftwards as thy glances fall,
And my lord's cottage with his pauper garth
Protect, repelling thieves' rapacious hands.
In spring with vari-coloured wreaths I'm crown'd,
In fervid summer with the glowing grain,
Then with green vine-shoot and the luscious bunch,
And glaucous olive-tree in bitter cold.
The dainty she-goat from my pasture bears
Her milk-distended udders to the town:
Out of my sheep-cotes ta'en the fatted lamb
Sends home with silver right-hand heavily charged;
And, while its mother lows, the tender calf
Before the temples of the Gods must bleed.
Hence of such Godhead, (traveller!) stand in awe,
Best it befits thee off to keep thy hands.
Thy cross is ready, shaped as artless yard;
"I'm willing, 'faith" (thou say'st) but 'faith here comes
The boor, and plucking forth with bended arm
Makes of this tool a club for doughty hand.

I, O traveller, shaped with rustic art from a dry poplar, guard this little field which thou seest on the left, and the cottage and small garden of its indigent owner, and keep off the greedy hands of the robber. In spring a many-tinted wreath is placed upon me; in summer's heat ruddy grain; [in autumn] a luscious grape cluster with vine-shoots, and in the bitter cold the pale-green olive. The tender she-goat bears from my pasture to the town milk-distended udders; the well-fattened lamb from my sheepfolds sends back [its owner] with a heavy handful of money; and the tender calf, 'midst its mother's lowings, sheds its blood before the temple of the Gods. Hence, wayfarer, thou shalt be in awe of this God, and it will be profitable to thee to keep thy hands off. For a punishment is prepared—a roughly-shaped mentule. "Truly, I am willing," thou sayest; then, truly, behold the farmer comes, and that same mentule plucked from my groin will become an apt cudgel in his strong right hand.

Terracotta statuette of Priapus, Turkey.