Saturday, 21 February 2015

Phaedrus: the war between mice and weasels.

For years now I have mice in my house,, I can even hear them when I am working behind my pc a meter or so away having fun in my living room and yesterday I saw a well-fed mouse running over my sink. I have tried mouse-traps and poison, but they keep up coming.
In the following fable by Phaedrus an army of mice lost a battle against weasels and are fleeing away into their holes. They escape, except for those generals who had put horns on their heads as a visible sign (conspicuum sgnum) for the soldiers to follow them. Thus far I haven’t seen such mice in my house, so I suspect I have to deal with guerrilla warfare. We all know you can’t win that…

Phaedrus , Fabulae book 4, VI. Pugna Murium et Mustelarum
(meter: iambic)

Cum victi mures mustelarum exercitu
(historia, quot sunt, in tabernis pingitur)
fugerent et artos circum trepidarent cavos,
aegre recepti, tamen evaserunt necem:
duces eorum, qui capitibus cornua
suis ligarant ut conspicuum in proelio
haberent signum quod sequerentur milites,
haesere in portis suntque capti ab hostibus;
quos immolatos victor avidis dentibus
capacis alvi mersit Tartareo specu.
Quemcumque populum tristis eventus premit,
periclitatur magnitudo principium,
minuta plebes facili praesidio latet.

mures: the very fact that this word is about the same in Latin, Germanic, Greek, Sanskrit, Russian and other Indo-European languages, proves that this animal has been a constant menace  since Indo-European came into existence.
mustela: weasel (weasels are known as mouse-catchers and one proposed etymology for this word is indeed `mouse-stealer’, but this is far from certain.)
in tabernis pingitur: the walls of pubs were decorated with various  images, like old-fashioned pubs  still have paintings hanging on the walls)
artus: narrow
trepido:  nervously tripping (as they can’t all at the same time escape into the narrow holes artos cavos.)
aegre recepti: concessive `though they were received with difficulty’(recepti cavis)
nex necis (f.): killing, violent death
ligo: to bind, fasten
haereo haesi: to stick
immolo: to sacrifice (immolatos is predicate `who as victims’)
avidus: greedy
capax,  capacis: large
alvus: womb
mergo mersi mersum: to plunge, swallow
specus, -us (f. and m.): chasm, pit
Tartareus; Tartarean   
tristis eventus: grim fate
periclitor: to be in danger
minuta= humilis
plebes, -es (f.) = plebs
facili praesidio latet: hides away in an easy protection/hiding (another possibility is to take praedisum as `government, high officials’  - so Siebilis and Polle in their edition (1889). In that case facili would mean `easy to find’ and facili praesidio.must be taken as in instrumental ablative; `hide away through (= behind)

Translation by Christopher Smart (1722–1771)

The Battle of the Mice and Weasels

The routed Mice upon a day
Fled from the Weasels in array;
But in the hurry of the flight,
What with their weakness and their fright
Each scarce could get into his cave :
Howe'er, at last their lives they save.
But their commanders (who had tied
Horns to their heads in martial pride,
Which as a signal they design'd
For non-commission'd mice to mind)
Stick in the entrance as they go,
And there are taken by the foe,
Who, greedy of the victim, gluts
With mouse-flesh his ungodly guts.
Each great and national distress
Must chiefly mighty men oppress;
While folks subordinate and poor
Are by their littleness secure.

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