Friday, 17 October 2014

Ovid: Girls, don't laugh immoderately!

Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is a treatise of how to gain love. The first two books are for men and the third and final book is directed to women. As such a work has also to deal with things sexual, Ovid can’t avoid being explicit and so – as I was surprised to read in the wiki link below-   US Customs found reason to seize an English translation of it. In 1930 that was - I hope they have come to their senses by now.
As love is of every time, so are the advices Ovid tells his readers. In the following extract Ovid is talking about laughing. I hope female readers of this blog can still take profit from Ovid’s thoughts about this subject! As a bonus there is some more advice by Ovid.

Ovidius, Ars Amatoria 3, 281-396

Quis credat? discunt etiam ridere puellae,
     Quaeritur atque illis hac quoque parte decor.
Sint modici rictus, parvaeque utrimque lacunae,
     Et summos dentes ima labella tegant.
Nec sua perpetuo contendant ilia risu,               285
     Sed leve nescio quid femineumque sonent.
Est, quae perverso distorqueat ora cachinno:
     Risu concussa est altera, flere putes.
Illa sonat raucum quiddam atque inamabile ridet,
     Ut rudit a scabra turpis asella mola.               290
Quo non ars penetrat? discunt lacrimare decenter,
     Quoque volunt plorant tempore, quoque modo.
Quid, cum legitima fraudatur littera voce,
     Blaesaque fit iusso lingua coacta sono?
In vitio decor est: quaerunt male reddere verba;               295
     Discunt posse minus, quam potuere, loqui.

quaeritur decor: charm is also looked for
rictus –us (m.): opening of the mouth
lacuna:  hole, dimple
Et summos dentes ima labella tegant: litt.  let the deepest parts of the lips cover the highes parts of the teeth. A typical Ovidian sentence: with a few words an image is created. What is meant is that the lips should only be opened to such extent, that they cover the gum (summos dentes, `dental roots’, so the gum) and they should not uncover more.
contendere ilia: to shake the entrails
quae…altera: the one…the other
distorqueo distorti distortum:  to twist, distort
cachinnus: immoderate laughter
flere putes: cf. crying from laughing     
Ut rudit a scabra turpis asella mola: like a wretched she-donkey roars from the rough millstone. (so
Quoque volunt plorant tempore, quoque modo = et plorant quo tempore volunt et quo modo
ploro: to weep
legitima littera: the correct pronunciation
Blaesaque fit iusso lingua coacta sono: the tongue becomes lisping, forced by the imposed sound   I found an online German translation with an excellent commentary by Heinrich Lindemann (1861) who thinks that these lines refer to colloquial language (gemüthliche Umgangssprache), but I rather think that Roman girls distorted their voice in a childish manner in order to appear charming.)
reddere verba = loqui
vitium: imperfection
minus: less perfect
potuere = potuerunt

Translation by A. S. Kline (2001)

Who’d believe it? Girls must even learn to laugh,
they seek to acquire beauty also in this way.
Laugh modestly, a small dimple either side,
the teeth mostly concealed by the lips.
Don’t strain your lungs with continual laughter,
but let something soft and feminine ring out.
One girl will distort her face perversely by guffawing:
another shakes with laughter, you’d think she’s crying.
That one laughs stridently in a hateful manner,
like a mangy ass braying at the shameful mill.
Where does art not penetrate? They’re taught to cry,
with propriety, they weep when and how they wish.
Why! Aren’t true words cheated by the voice,
and tongues forced to make lisping sounds to order?
Charm’s in a defect: they try to speak badly:
they’re taught, when they can speak, to speak less.

Latin text with German translation and commentary:

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