Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Seneca: a furious woman.

It is little known that Seneca adapted Greek tragedies into Latin – of course Latin scholars know, but students doing courses Latin hardly if ever get to read them. The reason is that often we have the Greek original and to be honest, Seneca was not a great dramaturge: his treatment of the material is more based on the sensational aspects of a tragedy, than on psychological insights about the motives of a character.  I can feel sympathy for Euripides’ Medea, as he delves into her psychology and makes her choices understandable for the public – at least I do, but maybe I should consult a psychiatrist - but these psychological investigations are foreign to Seneca’s Medea.
In the following passage, the choir comments on Medea’s spells and invocation of the gods during the night to help her to fulfil her revenge on her former husband Jason: the destruction of the two children she has with him and of his new bride – and of Creon, king of Corinth.

Seneca, Medea, 849-878
Meter: irregular iambic

Quonam cruenta maenas
praeceps amore saevo                              850
rapitur? quod impotenti
facinus parat furore?
vultus citatus ira
riget et caput feroci
quatiens superba motu                              855
regi minatur ultro.
     quis credat exulem?
Flagrant genae rubentes,
pallor fugat ruborem.
nullum vagante forma                              860
servat diu colorem.
huc fert pedes et illuc,
ut tigris orba natis
cursu furente lustrat
     Gangeticum nemus.                              865
Frenare nescit iras
Medea, non amores;
nunc ira amorque causam
iunxere: quid sequetur?
quando efferet Pelasgis                              870
nefanda Colchis arvis
gressum metuque solvet
regnum simulque reges?
Nunc, Phoebe, mitte currus
nullo morante loro,                              875
nox condat alma lucem,
mergat diem timendum
     dux noctis Hesperus.

cruentus: bloody
maenas maenadis (f.): maenad (priestess of Bacchus, alleged to behave frantic when in ecstasy)
praeceps: headlong
amore saevo: by wild passion
parat: subject Medea
impotenti furore: The prefix `in' in Latin is in this case related to English `un' and not to `in'. Like in English `un' is only used as a prefix, but for reasons of historical phonology it became homologous with `in’. The compound impotentia can be resolved as `having no (un) power’ or `in power’. In this case the latter meaning is intended
citatus: roused
rigeo: to stiffen
quatio: to shake
superbus: haughty
minor (often with dat.): to threaten
exulem: Medea came as a foreigner to Corinth
flagro: to glow
pallor palloris (m.): paleness
nullum vagante forma servat diu colorem: because of her changing form, she preserves no colour for long
huc…illuc: hither…tither
orba natis: bereaved of her cubs
lustro: to go around
Gangeticus: of the Ganges
freno: to check, control
causam iunxere (= iunxerunt): have joined a (common) cause
quando efferet Pelasgis nefanda Colchis arvis gressum metuque solvet
regnum simulque reges?: when will the impious woman from Colchis bring her step away from the Pelasgian fields (ex arvis Pelasgis) and free at the same time the kingdom the kingdom and the royal family (reges) from fear?
mitte currus: send out your chariot (currus: poetic plural), i.e. the chariot of the sun
moror: to delay
lorum: rein
condo condidi conditum: to hide
almus: nourishing, `kind’
mergat diem: may you merge into the day (i.e. go asap away)
Hesperus: the evening star

Translation by F.J. Miller (1917)

[849] Whither is this blood-stained maenad borne headlong by mad passion? What crime with reckless fury is she preparing? Her distraught face is hard set in anger, and with fierce tossings of her head she haughtily threatens e’en the king. Who would think her an exile.

[858] Her cheeks blaze red, pallor puts red to flight; no colour in her changing aspect does she keep long. Hither and thither she wanders, as a tigress, robbed of her cubs, ranges in mad course through the jungles of Ganges.

[866] How to curb her anger Medea knows not, nor yet her love; now that anger and love have joined cause, what will the outcome be? When will the wicked Colchian be gone from the Pelasgian borders and free from terror at once our kingdom and our kings? Now, O Phoebus, speed thy chariot with no check of rein; let friendly darkness veil the light and let Hesperus, vanguard of the night, plunge deep this fearful day.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Aulus Gellius: why Socrates could endure his wife and how Tarquinius came into the possession of the Sibylline books.

Aulus Gellius (125 - after 180 AD) was a Roman grammarian, antiquarian, philosopher and writer. He is hardly read anymore – I can’t remember having read anything from him before till now. In some respects he reminds of those 17th and 18th century writers who loved reading and displaying their knowledge in writing books: never original, but amusing to read. His only known work is the Noctes Atticae (Attic nights), called so because he started this work when he studied at Athens and started to write notes and extracts from the books he read during the evening. He is important because he often quotes from sources now lost. There is hardly any organisation in his book and Gellius delights in telling anecdotes – a major reason for reading his book. Take for instance the following story about why Socrates could endure his wife:

Aulus Gellius, book 1, XVII

1 Xanthippe, Socratis philosophi uxor, morosa admodum fuisse fertur et iurgiosa irarumque et molestiarum muliebrium per diem perque noctem scatebat. 2 Has eius intemperies in maritum Alcibiades demiratus interrogavit Socraten, quaenam ratio esset, cur mulierem tam acerbam domo non exigeret. 3 "Quoniam," inquit Socrates "cum illam domi talem perpetior, insuesco et exerceor, ut ceterorum quoque foris petulantiam et iniuriam facilius feram."

morosus: stubborn
iurgiosus: quarrelsome
molestia: trouble
muliebris: pertaining to a woman
scateo (+ gen.): to abound in
intemperies (f.): outrageous conduct
maritus: husband
demiror demiratus sum: to wonder
exigo exegi exactum: to drive out
illam talem: her being of that kind
perpetior perpessus sum: to suffer firmly
insuesco insuevi: to become used to
petulantia: freakishness

Two chapters further he tells about how the Sibylline books came into the possession of Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome (534-509 BC): an old woman comes to him and offers nine books for a ridiculous high price. Tarquinius thinks he is crazy and refuses to buy. Then she burns three of the books and offers the remaining for the same price. Tarquinius still refuses and she burns another three. Now the king changes his mind, as somehow he feels that these books could be very important and agrees to buy the remaining three for the price originally asked. The old woman disappears never to be seen again. She was a Sibyl herself and according to tradition the Sibyl of Cumae.

1 In antiquis annalibus memoria super libris Sibyllinis haec prodita est: 2 Anus hospita atque incognita ad Tarquinium Superbum regem adiit novem libros ferens, quos esse dicebat divina oracula; eos velle venundare. 3 Tarquinius pretium percontatus est. Mulier nimium atque inmensum poposcit; 4 rex, quasi anus aetate desiperet, derisit. 5 Tum illa foculum coram cum igni apponit, tris libros ex novem deurit et, ecquid reliquos sex eodem pretio emere vellet, regem interrogavit. 6 Sed enim Tarquinius id multo risit magis dixitque anum iam procul dubio delirare. 7 Mulier ibidem statim tris alios libros exussit atque id ipsum denuo placide rogat, ut tris reliquos eodem illo pretio emat. 8 Tarquinius ore iam serio atque attentiore animo fit, eam constantiam confidentiamque non insuper habendam intellegit, libros tris reliquos mercatur nihilo minore pretio, quam quod erat petitum pro omnibus. 9 Sed eam mulierem tunc a Tarquinio digressam postea nusquam loci visam constitit. 10 Libri tres in sacrarium conditi "Sibyllini" appellati; 11 ad eos quasi ad oraculum quindecimviri adeunt, cum di immortales publice consulendi sunt.

anus: old woman
hospita: as guest
venundo: to sell
percontor percontatus sum: to inquire
posco poposci: to demand
desipio: to act foolishly
foculum: fire-pan
coram (adv.): in front, nearby
deuro deussi deustum: to burn completely
ecquid: whether
emo emi emptus: to sell
enim id multo risit magis: laughed at this even much more
procul dubio: without doubt
denuo: anew
placide: calmly
ore serio: with a serious face
non insuper: not to disregard (litt. `not above, not in excess’)
mercor: to buy
constitit eam: it is agreed that she
sacrarium: shrine (in the temple of Juno)
quindecimviri: the fifteen men appointed to consult the Sibylline books)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Phaedrus, Fabulae 1, 4: too greedy!

Fables are not children stories, but they express moral principles and folk wisdom through animal characters. It was once thought that this genre came from India to Greece, but now scholars are less certain. Fables are short and written in an easy language and no wonder that they were used as an introduction into Latin during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The same is true for Indian fables: thousands and thousands of students of Sanskrit must have been introduced to original Sanskrit through Charles Lanman’s `Sanskrit Reader’ which contains inter alia fables from the Hitopadesha in the easier selections. From a sociological point of view fables are ideal for studying moral concepts of a society. Take for instance this simple fable from Phaedrus fabulae: a dog wants to swim across a river carrying a piece of meat. Standing at the river he sees his own reflection in the water and opens his mouth to get hold of the other piece of meat too – and is left with nothing.  May be greedy bankers should recite this fable twice daily.

Phaedrus, Fabulae, IV (or V in another counting): Canis per Fluvium Carnem Ferens

Amittit merito proprium qui alienum adpetit.
Canis, per fluvium carnem cum ferret, natans
lympharum in speculo vidit simulacrum suum,
aliamque praedam ab altero ferri putans
eripere voluit; verum decepta aviditas
et quem tenebat ore dimisit cibum,
nec quem petebat adeo potuit tangere.

amitto amisi amissum: to loose
merito: righly
proprium: one’s own thing
adpeto adpetivi adpetitum: to strive after (= peto)
cum ferret: when he wanted to carry (another reading for cum is dum, probably a mediaeval alteration as both conjunctives got blurred)
nato: to swim
lympha: water
speculum: reflection, mirror
praeda: booty
eripio eripui ereptum: to snatch away
decepta aviditas: abstractum pro concreto `the eager one deceived himself’
cibum, quem: the food which
tango tetigi tactum: to touch

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ovid, Fasti vi, 337-354: Fire!

Fire fascinates me: every Easter I go away with friends for attending big Easter bonfires. I also love a fire in the garden in summertime or a fire in a fireplace in house, alas! my garden is too small and I don’t have a hearth in my house. So far my possibilities to satisfy my pyromaniac desires.
Fire plays an important role in various religions, think for instances of Agni, the Vedic God of fire who carries the oblations and offerings to the gods. The word agni is related to Latin ignis and originally it denoted the sacrificial fire of the Indo-European speakers, from Proto-Indo-European *h₁n̥gʷnis.  Normal fire was péh₂ur, hence English fire. The latter form has been lost in Latin, but has been preserved in Greek, which has lost the first form.
In Rome the cult of Vesta – goddess of the domestic hearth – played an important role and Ovid devotes quite some lines to this goddess in his Fasti. The temple of Vesta was a no-go area for men (non adeundo viro), and the eternal fire in her sanctuary had to be attended by virgins. However when in 241 BC the temple of Vesta took fire, the pontifex maximus Metellus saw no other option than enter the temple and save the statue of Vesta, as the Vestal Virgins were terror stricken Fortunately the goddess had no objections!

Ovid, Fasti, vi ,337-354

heu quantum timuere patres, quo tempore Vesta
     arsit et est tectis obruta paene suis!
flagrabant sancti sceleratis ignibus ignes,
     mixtaque erat flammae flamma profana piae;               440
attonitae flebant demisso crine ministrae:
     abstulerat vires corporis ipse timor.
provolat in medium, et magna 'succurrite' voce,
     'non est auxilium flere' Metellus ait.
'pignora virgineis fatalia tollite palmis:               445
     non ea sunt voto, sed rapienda manu.
me miserum! dubitatis?' ait. dubitare videbat
     et pavidas posito procubuisse genu.
haurit aquas, tollensque manus 'ignoscite', dixit
     'sacra: vir intrabo non adeunda viro.               450
si scelus est, in me commissi poena redundet:
     sit capitis damno Roma soluta mei.'
dixit, et inrupit: factum dea rapta probavit,

patres: the Senate
obruo obrui obrutum: to overwhelm, cover
scelero: to pollute, desecrate
mixta: here with dative instead of ablative
attonitus: terrified
dimisso crino: with loose hair (i.e. the Vestal Virgins had no time to order their hair)
aufero abstuli ablatum: to take away
in medium: i.e. of the Vestal Virgins
succurro succurri succursum: to run away
'non est auxilium flere': what a practical remark!
pignora fatalia: pledges given by fate. What is meant are the sacred items, including the statue of Vesta, by which the Vestal Virgins had pledged to give their life in service of the goddess.
palma: hand
non ea sunt voto: they are not (rescued) by prayer
rapio rapui raptum: to seize, carry and take away
genu pono: to bow the knee
procumbo procubui procubitum: to sink down
haurio hausi haustum: to draw up
ignosco ignovi ignorum: to forgive
sacra: the sacred items
commissi poena: penalty for (the deed - factum) committed
redundo (-are): to overflow
capitis damno mei: by the loss of my head
solutus: saved
inrumpo inrupu inruptum: to break in

Translation by A.S. Klyne (2004)

How worried the Senate was, when Vesta’s temple
Caught fire: and she was nearly buried by her own roof!
Holy fires blazed, fed by sinful fires,
Sacred and profane flames were merged.
The priestesses with streaming hair, wept in amazement:
Fear had robbed them of their bodily powers.
Metellus rushed into their midst, crying in a loud voice:
‘Run and help, there’s no use in weeping.
Seize fate’s pledges in your virgin hands:
They won’t survive by prayers, but by action.
Ah me! Do you hesitate?’ he said. He saw them,
Hesitating, sinking in terror to their knees.
He took up water, and holding his hands aloft, cried:
‘Forgive me, holy relics! A man enters where no man should.
If it’s wrong, let the punishment fall on me:
Let my life be the penalty, so Rome is free of harm.’
He spoke and entered. The goddess he carried away
Was saved by her priest’s devotion, and she approved