Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On the death of a small dog...

Recently I borrowed The Oxford Book of Medieval Verse from the university library at my hometown Groningen. The book appears to be a gift of Professor Christine Mohrmann (1903-1988), professor of Christian Latin at the Catholic University of Nijmegen (now Radboud University). Nijmegen University was in the sixties and seventies Marxist orientated. Both for this and the fact that she could not agree with the liberal theological views of the board of the university, she – ultra-conservative - left her books to the secular university of Groningen. But that is not what I want to talk about; it is about a poem I noticed in this book by an obscure monk living in the 12th century in a monastery near Liège, Theodorich of st. Trond. Next to nothing is known about him, except a few poems. We all know the poem by Catullus on the death of the pet-bird of Lesbia, but that is not the only poet lamenting the death of a pet-animal. Apparently he lost his little dog (or pretended to have lost, somehow I think the poem is a parody…). Anyway, the poem is not difficult:

Theodorich of Saint-Trond.
Meter: elegiac couplet (hexameter plus pentameter)

‘Flete, canes, si flere vacat, si flere valetis;
flete, canes: catulus mortuus est Pitulus.’
 ‘Mortuus est Pitulus? Pitulus quis?’ ‘Plus cane dignus.’
 ‘Quis Pitulus?’ ‘Domini cura dolorque sui.
‘Non canis Albanus, nec erat canis ille Molossus
sed canis exiguus, sed brevis et catulus.
Quinquennis fuerat; si bis foret ille decennis,
usque putes catulum, cum videas, modicum.
Muri pannonico vix aequus corpore toto
qui non tam muri quam similis lepori.
Albicolor nigris facies gemmabat ocellis.’
Unde genus?’ ‘Mater Fresia, Freso pater.’
‘Quae vires?’ ‘Parvae, satis illo corpore dignae,
ingentes animi robore dissimili.’
 ‘Quid fuit officium? Numquid fuit utile vel non?’
 ‘Ut parvum magnus diligeret dominus.
Hoc fuit officum, domino praeludere tantum.’
 ‘Quae fuit utilitas?’ ‘Non nisi risus erat.’
 ‘Qualis eras, dilecte canis, ridende, dolende,
risus eras vivens, mortuus ecce dolor.
Quisquis te vidit, quisquis te novit, amavit
et dolet exitio nunc, miserando, tuo.

si vacat flere: if there is time for weeping
valeo valui: to be able to
catulus: little dog (diminutive of canis)
Albanus: Albanian
quinquennis =  quinque annis
decennis: apposition to bis (quinquennis)
usque modicum: still small
mus pannonicus: marmot
lepus leporis (m.): hare (the description is of the marmot, not the poor dog! Few readers would have any clue what a marmot looks like.)
albicolor: white-coloured
gemmo: to be adorned with
Fresius: from Friesland (Frisia, province in the North of the Netherlands)
Friso, Frisonis:  inhabitant of Frisia (Friesland does have a distinct race of dogs, the Stabyhoun, but this dog does not fit the description and probably did not even exist in Frisa in the 12th century.)
ingentes animi robore dissimili: a great spirit, unequal to his strength
parvum: something small
praeludo praelusi: to play in front of
risus erat:  he was laughter, fun (the translation below had as reading  risu erat `by laughter’.)
exitium: death

Translation by. Bernadette Hall].

Weep, dogs, if there is time to weep, if it suits you to weep;
Weep, dogs: the little puppy is dead, Pitulus.’
‘ ‘Pitulus is dead? Which Pitulus?’ ‘More worthy than a dog.’
 ‘Which Pitulus?’ ‘The love and sorrow of his Master.
Not an Albanian dog, nor was he a Molossian dog
but a tiny dog, but short and a puppy.
He had been five years old; if he had been twice, ten years old ,
when you saw him, you’d think he was just a tiny puppy. .
Scarcely equal to a marmot with his whole body
not so much like a mouse as a hare.
His white coloured face was jewelled with little black eyes.
 ‘From whence his tribe?’ ‘Mother Fresian, father Fresian.’
 ‘What strength?’ ‘Little, enough to match that body,
huge spirits with dissimilar physical strength.
 ‘What was his work? Was it anything useful or not?’
‘ ‘So that the big master might take delight in the small. ’
This was his work, only to play around for his master.
 ‘What was the use?’ ‘There was none unless by laughter.’
Such you were, beloved dog, to be laughed at, to be mourned,
living you were laughter, dead behold grief
Whoever saw you, whoever knew you, loved
and laments your death now, which must be mourned.

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