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.

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