Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Boethius, Consolatio 2. m 5: paradise lost.

With a friend I am reading the Works and Days by Hesiod. He is not the most optimistic writer and bewails that he did not live before in better times. Indeed the idea of a Golden Age is not uncommon in Antiquity and Hinduism has this idea too. In Jewish and Christian mythology there is the story of Paradise, but here we have only two people living. The idea of progress also existed in Antiquity – think of Protagoras and his idea of social evolution – but a decline is more common. And how many elderly people today are not complaining that in their youth everything was better? A few years to go and I too belong to them.
The theme of a Golden Age has also been treated by Roman writer like Horace, Virgil, Ovid and Tibullus and when Boethius was writing his Consolatio in prison, he  uses the material of these poets for his poem about the earlier stage of civilization. Such deliberations are a kind of yearning for better places and times. We can compare the exaltation of `primitive’ cultures by Rousseau in the late 18th century. According to Boethius we should be glad with what nature gives us and live a life of innocence. A stoic theme rather than Christian and maybe more expressing his deepest feelings than his outward Christian beliefs. 

Boethius, Consolatio book 2, poem 5.
Meter: anapest dimeter:  u u – u u – u u – u (the first two double shorts can be replaced by a single long syllable.)

Felix nimium prior aetas,
contenta fidelibus arvis
nec inerti perdita luxu,
facili quae sera solebat
ieiunia solvere glande. 5
Non Bacchica munera norant
liquido confundere melle,
nec lucida vellera Serum
Tyrio miscere veneno.
Somnos dabat herba salubres, 10
potum quoque lubricus amnis,
umbras altissima pinus.
Nondum maris alta secabat
nec mercibus undique lectis
nova litora viderat hospes. 15
Tunc classica saeva tacebant
odiis neque fusus acerbis
cruor horrida tinxerat arva.
Quid enim furor hosticus ulla
vellet prior arma movere, 20
cum vulnera saeva viderent
nec praemia sanguinis ulla ?
Utinam modo nostra redirent
in mores tempora priscos.
Sed saevior ignibus Aetnae 25
fervens amor ardet habendi.
Heu primus quis fuit ille,
auri qui pondera tecti
gemmasque latere volentes
pretiosa pericula fodit ? 30

fidelibus arvis: with trustworthy  fields
iners inertis: making lazy
sera ieiunia:  late hunger
facili glande: easy to get nut
Bachica munera: wine
norant = noverant
liquido confundere melle: wine mixed with honey is called mulsun
vellus velleris (n.): wool. In the plural anything woven and here it means silk
Seres Serum: Western Chinese tribe known from the trade in silk
Tyrio veneno: Tyrian juice = purple
herba: grass
potus potus (m.): drink
lubricus: easily streaming
pinus (f.): pine-tree
maris alta secabat: it cleaved the height of the sea
mercibus lectis: for excellent commodities
hospes: as guest
classicum: war trumpet
acerbus: sharp, violent
fusus cruor: shed blood
tingo tinxi tinctum: to moisten
arva: a variant reading is arma and is probably to be preferred
hosticus: hostile
nec praemia sanguinis ulla: and not any gain in (the shedding) of blood
utinam modo: `I wish that but’
priscus: of former times
saevus: fierce
amor habendi: the love for possession
pondus ponderis (n.): weight
tectus: covered, hidden
gemmasque latere volentes: and gems wanting  to be hidden
pretiosa pericula: apposition `as dangerous riches’
fodio fodi fossum: to dig out, delve

W.V. Cooper : J.M. Dent and Company London 1902


    Too blest the former age, their life
      Who in the fields contented led,
    And still, by luxury unspoiled,
      On frugal acorns sparely fed.

    No skill was theirs the luscious grape
      With honey's sweetness to confuse;
    Nor China's soft and sheeny silks
      T' empurple with brave Tyrian hues.

    The grass their wholesome couch, their drink
      The stream, their roof the pine's tall shade;
    Not theirs to cleave the deep, nor seek
      In strange far lands the spoils of trade.

    The trump of war was heard not yet,
      Nor soiled the fields by bloodshed's stain;
    For why should war's fierce madness arm
      When strife brought wound, but brought not gain?

    Ah! would our hearts might still return
      To following in those ancient ways.
    Alas! the greed of getting glows
      More fierce than Etna's fiery blaze.

    Woe, woe for him, whoe'er it was,
      Who first gold's hidden store revealed,
    And--perilous treasure-trove--dug out
      The gems that fain would be concealed!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Prudentius: a career switch.

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348  Saragossa - between 405 and 413 (?) is with St Ambrose the most important poet from early Christianity. Very little is known about him and what is known is taken from the praefatio of his Cathimeron. This is a collection of hymns for use at certain hours of the days or for some special days like 25 December or Three Kings. He is in his 57th year when he wrote the praefatio and is looking back at his life. In the praefatio he tells us of his life before he converted to Christianity (lines 1-27) and his decision to spend his remaining years with writing Christian poetry (28-45). In some respects it is reminiscent of the Confessiones by St Augustine: the old life is depicted in bleak terms. There is nothing to suggest that his life was different from other Roman juveniles and his career was very successful. The date of his conversion and the circumstances are unknown. Given the quality of his poetry he must have written poems before. I too am now in my 57th year and maybe I should also think about a new career. Fortunately I recently read that 60 is the new 40, so I have many years ahead of me before I have to take that decision!
I give the first 27 lines of the poem: a complete text and a translation are here:

Praefatio to the Cathimeron lines 1-27.
Meter: first two Glyconic, third Lesser Asclepiad
- - - u u - u u
- - - u u - / - u u – u –
- - - u u - / - u u - / - u u – u -

Per quinquennia iam decem,
  ni fallor, fuimus ; septimus insuper
  annum cardo rotat, dum fruimur sole volubili.
Instat terminus, et diem
  vicinum senio iam Deus adplicat.  
  Quid nos utile tanti spatio temporis egimus ?
Aetas prima crepantibus
  flevit sub ferulis. mox docuit toga
  infectum vitiis falsa loqui, non sine crimine.
Tum lasciva protervitas
  et luxus petulans (heu pudet ac piget !)
  foedavit iuvenem nequitiae sordibus ac luto.
Exin iurgia turbidos
  armarunt animos, et male pertinax
  vincendi studium subiacuit casibus asperis.
Bis legum moderamine
  frenos nobilium reximus urbium,
  ius civile bonis reddidimus, terruimus reos.
Tandem militiae gradu
  evectum pietas principis extulit,
  adsumptum propius stare iubens ordine proximo.
Haec dum vita volans agit,
  inrepsit subito canities seni,
  oblitum veteris me Saliae consulis arguens,
Sub quo prima dies mihi
  quam multas hiemes volverit, et rosas
  pratis post glaciem reddiderit, nix capitis probat.

quinquennium: period of five years
cardo cardinis (f.): hinge (i.e. the year turns around a pole)
volubilis: revolving
instat terminus: the end is near
vicinum senio: as a neighbour to old age
crepantibus sub ferulis: under cracking/ sounding rods
toga: the toga virilis, taken at the age of 16
(me) infectum: me corrupted with (inficio)
protervitas –atis (f.): boldness
foedo: to deform
nequitiae sordibus ac luto: by the dirt and mud of wickedness
exin: then
iurgia: legal disputes (Prudentius was a lawyer)
pertinax: stubborn
subiaceo (+ dat.): to lie near, couple (a legal term, meaning losing a case)
legum moderamine frenos reximus: I held the reigns in the office of laws  (probably as prefect)
nobelium urbium: it is not known what cities)
reus: both `accused’ and `guilty’
militiae gradu: at that period not necessarily a military rank. It could also be a high civil rank
(me) evectum: promoted me
pietas principis: the favour of the Emperor
 adsumptum…proximo: having accepted that rank ordering me to stand very near in the nearest rank (i.e. very close to the Emperor)
inrepo inrepsi inreptum: to creep
canietes –es (f.) greyness
oblitum veteris me Saliae consulis arguens = arguens me oblitum veteris Saliae consulis
proving me to have forgotten (obliviscor + gen.) the old consulship of Saliae (in 348, the year of his birth, so Prudentius is forgetting his childhood)
sub quo: under Salia
prima dies: birth day
pratum: meadow
nix capitis: the snow of my head `my white head’

Monday, 16 March 2015

Carmina Burana 41: a still valid poem.

The Middle Ages covers a period of some 800-1000 years depending where one reckons it to start and end. It is far from a monolithic block in which nothing seems to happen till – mirabile visu – out of nothing the Renaissance appears. In fact, a lot happened in the Middle Ages and major social shifts took place, universities were founded and thanks to the horrible Crusades, eastern commodities became known to the West. The Roman Church also underwent change. Critics raised their voices against the life of luxury, simony and corruption and one of them is Walter of Chatillon (fl. 1170), French theologian and writer. He is famous for his Alexandreis, a poem about the life of Alexander the Great, but he also wrote other poems like the Propter Sion non tacebo. It is a bitter and satirical poem against that major source of corruption: the pope and the curie at Rome. Walter of Chatillon had his fair share of being maltreated by the rich, so he had every reason to be cynical. It was written during the period at which various councils elected different popes. Nautical metaphors are widely used in this poem and there are many quotes from scripture - I have not indicated all of them – which with great skill are moulded into the meter of the Stabat mater Dolorosa. It needs only little imagination to see how this poem is still applicable to many governments. The root of all evil is money, yes, but that is often driven by corruption. May be some politicians should meditate on this poem…
It has come down to us in various manuscripts under which the Carmina Burana. The poem is fairly long, but the Latin is not that difficult and often hilarious.
(ps, what was a neat layout in word, has become ugly in Blogger.)

Carmina Burana 41

Propter Sion non tacebo,                (Jes. 62.)
sed ruinas Rome flebo,
quousque iustitia                                             till
rursus nobis oriatur
et ut lampas accendatur
iustus in ecclesia.

Sedet vilis et in luto                          poor, cheap; mud
princeps facta sub tribute                princeps = Rome; subjected under tribute
quod solebam dicere:
Romam esse derelictam,                  forsaken
desolatam et afflictam,
expertus sum opere.                         I know by experience (Walter had visited Rome)

Vidi, vidi caput mundi,
instar maris et profundi                   like (+ gen.): deep
vorax guttur Siculi.                            voracious throat of Sicily (= Street of Messina)
ibi mundi bithalassus,                      (dangerous)place where to seas meet (Greek)
ibi sorbet aurum Crassus                 drinks; famous rich man in Antiquity
et argentum seculi.

Ibi latrat Scylla rapax                        barks, rages; greedy
et Charybdis auri capax                    containing (+ gen.)
potius quam navium;
ibi cursus galearum                          galleys
et conflictus piratarum,
id est cardinalium.                            curie

Syrtes insunt huic profundo            dangerous sandbanks (Aeneid 1,110 ff)
et Sirenes, toti mundo
minantes naufragium.                      threatening; shipwreck
os humanum foris patet,                 from the outside
in occulto cordis latet
deforme demonium.

Habes iuxta rationem
bithalassum per Franconem;          Franco, papal chamberlain (1174-1178)
quod ne credas frivolum:
ibi duplex mare fervet,                     rages
a quo non est qui reservet
sibi valens obolum.                           worth a penny

Ibi fluctus colliduntur,
ibi panni submerguntur,                  clothes
byssus, ostrum, purpure;                cotton ; ostrum = purple
ibi mundus deglutitur,                     is swallowed
immo totus sepelitur                       is burried
in Franconis gutture.                        throat

Franco nulli miseretur,
nullum sexum reveretur,                 respects
nulli parcit sanguini.                         spares (+ dat.)
omnes illi dona ferunt;
illuc enim ascenderunt                     (Psalm 121,4)
tribus, tribus Domini.

Canes Scylle possunt dici
veritatis inimici,
advocati Curie,                                  lay `protectors’ of monasteries making a rich
qui latrando falsa fingunt,                 living  of their protection
mergunt simul et confringunt         they submerge and break
carinam pecunie.                               ship

Iste probat se legistam,                    he asserts to be a lawyer
ille vero decretistam,                        judge
inducens Gelasium;                          bringing pope Gelasius II (402-496) to court
ad probandum questionem             for settling the question
hic intendit actionem                       a third takes action
regundorum finium.                         for settling boundaries (i.e.questioning the
                                                            competence of those bringing forward a trial.)
Nunc rem sermo prosequatur:       comes back to the matter
hic Charybdis debacchatur,             is feasting
id est cancellaria,                                             the curie 
ubi nemo gratus gratis                     no one is accepted for free
neque datur absque datis
Gratiani gratia.                                  Founder of the canon law

Plumbum, quod hic informatur,     the lead of the papal seal
super aurum dominatur
et massam argenteam;
equitatis phantasia                           the fancy of justice (aequitas)
sedet teste Zacharia                         (Zacarias 5,7 ff. )
super bullam plumbeam.

Qui sunt Syrtes vel Sirenes?
qui sermone blando lenes                              smoothly with flattering speech
attrahunt byzantium;                       byzantine gold
spem pretendunt lenitatis,              hope of leniency
sed procella parcitatis                      with a storm of greed
supinant marsupium.                       they turn empty the purse (of another)

Dulci cantu blandiuntur
ut Sirenes, et loquuntur
primo quedam dulcia:
«Frare, ben je te cognosco,              Brother, I know you well
certe nichil a te posco,                     demand
nam tu es de Francia.

Terra vestra bene cepit                    has made a good start (with standing behind pope
et benigne nos excepit                     Alexander III)
in portu concilii.                                Either the council of Tours (1163) or Montpellier (1162)
nostri estis, nostri! cuius?
sacrosancte sedis huius                  
speciales filii.

Nos peccata relaxamus
et laxatos collocamus                       sit on
sedibus ethereis.
nos habemus Petri leges
ad ligandos omnes reges  (              Psalm 149,8) check, control
in manicis ferreis.»                           fetters

Ita dicunt cardinales,
ita solent di carnales                        human gods
in primis allicere.                               At first they draw (people) to them
sic instillant fel draconis,                 poison of a dragon
et in fine lectionis                             reading of the mass
cogunt bursam vomere.                   wallet

Cardinales, ut predixi,
novo iure Crucifixi
vendunt patrimonium.                     sell the privileges of the Church
Petrus foris, intus Nero,
intus lupi, foris vero
sicut agni ovium.

Tales regunt Petri navem,
tales habent eius clavem,
ligandi potentiam.                            collecting power
hi nos docent, sed indocti,
hi nos docent, et nox nocti
indicat scientiam.

In galea sedet una                             galea= navis Petri transformed into a pirate ship
mundi lues inportuna,                      plague ; distressing
camelos deglutiens.                          eating camels (Matth. 23,24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat,
involuta canopeo                                             and swallow a camel.)  musquito-curtain
cuncta vorat sicut leo
rapiens et rugiens.                            dragging and roaring

Hic piratis principatur,                     rules
Spurius qui nuncupatur,                 counter pope Callixtius III? who is called
sedens in insidiis,
ventre grosso, lata cute,                  with big belly thick skin
grande monstrum nec virtute
redemptum a vitiis.

Maris huius non est dea
Thetis, mater Achillea,
de qua sepe legimus,                        saepe
immo mater sterlingorum,                             of pound sterlings
sancta soror loculorum,                   the holy sister of monasteries
quam nos Bursam dicimus.

Hec dum pregnat, ductor ratis        when she (the purse) is pregnant (=full); steersman
epulatur cum piratis                         dines
et amicos reperit;                                            finds
nam si Bursa detumescit,                becomes empty
surgunt venti, mare crescit,
et carina deperit.                               the ship sinks     

Tunc occurrunt cautes rati,              rocks appear for the raft
donec omnes sint privati
tam nummis quam vestibus.
tunc securus fit viator,                     traveller
quia nudus, et cantator                    singer    
it coram latronibus.                          In front of the robbers

Qui sunt cautes? ianitores,              door-keepers
per quos, licet seviores                    more fierce than
tigribus et beluis,                                             monsters
intrat saccus ere plenus,                  a purse full of money
pauper autem et egenus                  needy
tollitur a ianuis.

Quod si verum placet scribi,
duo tantum portus ibi,
due tantum insule,
ad quas licet applicari                       to go to
et iacturam reparari                         repair the damage
confracte navicule.                            of the small ship

Petrus enim Papiensis,                     cardinal of Pope Alexander III
qui electus est Meldensis,                              as bishop of Meaux
portus recte dicitur.
nam cum mare fluctus tollit,
ipse solus mare mollit,                     softens
et ad ipsum fugitur.

Est et ibi maior portus,
fetus ager, florens ortus,                  fertile
pietatis balsamum:
Alexander ille meus,                         Pope Aexander III, who had to flee to France
meus, inquam, cui det Deus
paradisi thalamum.                          treasure

Ille fovet litteratos,
cunctos malis incurvatos,                all who bend to evil
si posset, erigeret.
verus esset cultor Dei,
nisi latus Elisei                                   (2 Kings 5,20 ff) Giezi was the servant of Elisa and was asking
Giezi corrumperet.                            money for the healings Elisa did for free. (latus = side, flank)

Sed ne rursus in hoc mari
me contingat naufragari,
dictis finem faciam,
quia, dum securus eo,
ne submergar, ori meo
posui custodiam.