Sunday, 24 May 2015

Tacitus, Germania, c. 2: where the Germanic tribes come from and how they got their name.

Were it not for Tacitus, our knowledge of Germanic mythology would have been limited to most fairly late mediaeval sources, like the prose – and poetic Edda. Not that Tacitus goes much into detail, but what he gives is of significant interest as we glimpses of myths unattested in later sources.
In the first part of chapter 2, Tacitus states that he believes that the Germanic people are indigenous No wonder, as no other people wants to live there! Of course Tacitus is wrong: they result from a mixture of tribes speaking an Indo-European language and original inhabitants. This process must have taken place from Southern Sweden from 500 BC onwards, when proto-Germanic tribes migrated to the European continent and mixed with people speaking an unknown language. Given the fairly high number of words without cognates in other Indo-European languages, the conclusion must be that these words derive from that unknown substrate language. Isn’t that fascinating?
In the second part Tacitus mentions a myth about the origin of men:  Tuisto had a son, Mannus, who is the father of three Germanic tribes covering the whole Germanic area. This myth has not survived in Old Norse sources, but a parallel myth is known from the Rigveda:  Manu is the first mortal and father of mankind. Tuisto has at first sight no parallel in the Rigveda, but there is the god Yama, ruler of the dead and brother of Manu. His name means `double’, so the same is Tuisto. In later Norse mythology we find the giant Ymir, out of whom the world is created, exactly as in the Purusha hymn Rigveda x.90. There is no exact correspondence, but it is clear that both the Germanic and the Vedic myths must have a common source. 
I can’t go into many details and will leave questions about Germanic tribes aside. Scholarly commentaries tend to run into pages for every chapter of the Germania and though highly interesting,  I don’t feel inclined to translate and take over the 25 pages Rudolph Much has spent on chapter 2 in his Die Germania des Tacitus (1967), however intersting. It goes without saying that with such a difficult text, I have made use of the commentaries by Furneaux, Much and Anderson.

Tacitus Germania c.2

[2] Ipsos Germanos indigenas crediderim minimeque aliarum gentium adventibus et hospitiis mixtos, quia nec terra olim, sed classibus advehebantur qui mutare sedes quaerebant, et inmensus ultra utque sic dixerim adversus Oceanus raris ab orbe nostro navibus aditur. Quis porro, praeter periculum horridi et ignoti maris, Asia aut Africa aut Italia relicta Germaniam peteret, informem terris, asperam caelo, tristem cultu adspectuque, nisi si patria sit?

Celebrant carminibus antiquis, quod unum apud illos memoriae et annalium genus est, Tuistonem deum terra editum. Ei filium Mannum, originem gentis conditoremque, Manno tris filios adsignant, e quorum nominibus proximi Oceano Ingaevones, medii Herminones, ceteri Istaevones vocentur. Quidam, ut in licentia vetustatis, pluris deo ortos plurisque gentis appellationes, Marsos Gambrivios Suebos Vandilios adfirmant, eaque vera et antiqua nomina. Ceterum Germaniae vocabulum recens et nuper additum, quoniam qui primi Rhenum transgressi Gallos expulerint ac nunc Tungri, tunc Germani vocati sint: ita nationis nomen, non gentis evaluisse paulatim, ut omnes primum a victore ob metum, mox etiam a se ipsis, invento nomine Germani vocarentur.

indigena – ae:  a native,  autochthonous  
terra: abl!
classibus advehebantur: Tacitus must have had colonization of various places around the Mediterranean and The Black Sea undertaken by Greek city states in mind and of course the journey of Aeneas.
mutare sedes: migrate
inmensus ultra utque sic dixerim adversus Oceanus raris ab orbe nostro navibus aditur: and the immense Ocean beyond, and so to say contrary, is but rarely entered by ships from our world.
(adversus is problematic and the translation `hostile’ is by some adopted)
porro: moreover, further
peteret:  who would have left
informem terries: rough in landscapes (terris and caelo are ablatives of description. cultu and adspectu are mostly taken as supines: awful to inhabit and to behold.)
unum memoriae et annalium genus est: the only kind of tradition and history. Writing in their vernacular languages was unknown to the Germanic tribes and it was not until bishop Wulfila (ca 311-382) translated major parts of the Bible in the Gothic, that anything  substantial was written in a Germanic language.
Mannus: the same word as English `man’
editum terra: born from the earth
Ingaevones, medii Herminones, ceteri Istaevones: that is the near the ocean, in the middle of Germania and along the Rhine
originem gentis conditoremque: (hendiadys) `forefather of the people’  (some editions have conditoresque, taking Tuisto and Mannus together as forefathers)
quidam:  now lost Roman sources?  Germanic speakers providing information? Probably the first. The remainder of  c.2 is depending on quidam…adfirmant
ut in licentia vetustatis (fit): as happens within the margins allowed by antiquity
pluris deo ortos plurisque gentis appellationes: that more (pluris = plures) (sons) are borne from god and more names of a tribe. (What follows is an asyndetic  enumeration)
ceterum: to the contrary
Germaniae vocabulum: the name `Germania’
ac nunc Tungri, tunc Germani vocati sint:  this belongs to the most disputed passages in Latin literature. Clear is that from the tribal name Germani the whole area with Germanic tribes has been designated. The etymology of the name Germani is unclear, but probably not Celtic, as has been suggested by some. Roman folk etymology readily derived it from Latin germanus `brother’, but this is of course of no great help.  I am of Germanic stock, but have no clue what that name means. Let’s hope that germani doesn’t mean `ass-holes’…
ita nationis nomen, non gentis evaluisse paulatim:  thus what has been a tribal, not national  name,  prevailed gradually (Furneaux)
ut omnes primum a victore ob metum, mox etiam a se ipsis, invento nomine Germani vocarentur:  so that all were initially called germani after the victor because of  fear (the fear they inspired), soon however they were called by themselves  with this recently acquired name.

(But the sentence is difficult and the exact meaning is disputed. Tacitus is wrong in asserting that they called themselves Germani: they did only so when in Roman service.)

Translation by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb , 1876.

The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with other races through immigration or intercourse. For, in former times, it was not by land but on shipboard that those who sought to emigrate would arrive; and the boundless and, so to speak, hostile ocean beyond us, is seldom entered by a sail from our world. And, beside the perils of rough and unknown seas, who would leave Asia, or Africa, or Italy for Germany, with its wild country, its inclement skies, its sullen manners and aspect, unless indeed it were his home? In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past, they celebrate an earth-born god, Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingævones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istævones. Some, with the freedom of conjecture permitted by antiquity, assert that the god had several descendants, and the nation several appellations, as Marsi, Gambrivii, Suevi, Vandilii, and that these are genuine old names. The name Germany, on the other hand, they say, is modern and newly introduced, from the fact that the tribes which first crossed the Rhine and drove out the Gauls, and are now called Tungrians, were then called Germans. Thus what was the name of a tribe, and not of a race, gradually prevailed, till all called themselves by this self-invented name of Germans, which the conquerors had first employed to inspire terror.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Carmina Burana 201: cheers to Bacchus!

Romans were great lawyers, but had little phantasy concerning religion and mythology.  They simply took over Greek mythology, retaining mostly the names of their own gods, but otherwise their mythology was Greek. From a modern perspective one may wonder to what extend these myths were believed – as indeed one can have the same question about the Greeks believing their myths, but it must be kept in mind that ritual and not so much belief in myths stood at the forefront of ancient religious attitudes.  Also the lack of fixed sacred texts made stories more flexible.
Anyway, one of the gods taken over was Bacchus or Dionysus, the god of wine. The Romans too had their god of wine, Liber, but often the Greek names were used. Within Greek religion Bacchus was far more than the god of wine: he was also the god of ecstasy and of the maenads, women in frantic ecstasy roaming through the fields at night.
Anyone having read Euripides’ Bacchae, knows what a ruthless god he is towards those standing in his way. Pentheus did not believe that Dionysus was a god and was worried about the disorder Dionysus caused in the city of Thebes. He puts him in prison and searches for his mother Agaue, who is with other Theban women in the mountains around Thebes. In the meantime Dionysus has escaped from prison and turns the women in the maenads. Agaue doesn’t recognize her son, thinking he is a young lion and under her leadership the women chase after him and tore him apart. Full of pride she shows the head of her son, still believing that they have killed a lion, but at that moment she comes to her senses again and realises what she has done.
The knowledge of Greek in the West got lost in the early Middle Ages, but Ovid tells about Dionysus  and Pentheus in the third book of his Metamorphoses, and so this story was preserved.  Two of the poems in Carmina Burana 201 refer to Bacchus incarcerated, but as these are drinking-songs, the author or authors mean wine in a barrel. The line 201 iii is a quote from the Copa, a poem belonging to the Appendix Vergiliana. This Appendix contains poems attributed to Vergil, but are in all likelihood not written by him.
What is clear from the poems referring to Bacchus, is that he is no longer the dangerous god he was once in Greek religion, but a good companion to have a drink with. Cheers!

Carmina Burana 201

Tu das, Bacche, loqui, tu comprimis ora loquacis,
ditas, deditas, tristia leta facis.
Concilias hostes, tu rumpis federa pacis,
et qui nulla sciunt, omnia scire facis.
Multis clausa seris tibi panditur arca tenacis;
tu das, ut detur, nil dare posse facis.
Das ceco visum, das claudo crura salacis:
crederis esse deus, hec quia cuncta facis.

loquax loquacis: talkative
dito: to make rich (and dedito is of course the opposite!)
rumpo rupi ruptum: to break
federa = foedera
Multis clausa seris tibi panditur arca tenacis = arca tenacis clausa multis seris tibi panditur: the prison (arca: box, prison) of the stubborn one (= Pentheus) shut with many bolts (sera: bolt) is opened (pando pandi passum) by you
cecus = caecus: blind
das claudo crura salacis: you give legs of one who likes to jump (salax) to a lame. Salax also means `lustful’ and of course this meaning is intended too
hec = haec

Ergo bibamus,    ne sitiamus,    vas repleamus.
Quisque suorum    posteriorum    sive priorum
sit sine cura    morte futura    re peritura.

sitio sitivi (or -ii): to be thirsty
vas vasis (n): bowl
Quisque suorum    posteriorum    sive priorum sit sine cura: every one of your (relatives) after you or before you will have no worries
morte futura   re peritura:  in future death all will be lost

Pone merum et talos, pereat, qui crastina curat.

merum: wine
talus: dice
crastinus: pertaining to to morrow

App. Verg., Copa 37

Bacchus erat captus    vinclisque tenacibus aptus;
noluit ergo deus    carceris esse reus.
Ast in conclavi    dirupit vincula suavi
et fractis foribus    prodiit e laribus.

aptus: tied
ast: but
reus (+ gen.): guilty, deserving
conclavi suavi: in the sweet barrel
foris foris (f.): door
lar laris (m.): house (often used in the plural, as the lares were originally the deities protecting a house)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Lucretius v, 1011-1029: how society began.

Myths about the origin of civilisation can be found all over the world. Sometimes civilisation is brought to mankind by a trickster like Prometheus or by some divine aid. Such an intervention is impossible for Lucretius and he tries to develop a rationalistic explanation.  His reconstruction comes close to what modern anthropologists and sociologists consider as a likely development for a civilization. On the other hand is Lucretius to optimistic and incorporated in his description the notion of a golden age. Modern research has found that primitive societies were violent against each other. Still, one can only admire Lucretius’ attempt to imagine the development of society.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, v 1011 - 1027
Inde casas postquam ac pellis ignemque pararunt
et mulier coniuncta viro concessit in unum

cognita sunt, prolemque ex se videre creatam,
tum genus humanum primum mollescere coepit.
ignis enim curavit, ut alsia corpora frigus                1015
non ita iam possent caeli sub tegmine ferre,
et Venus inminuit viris puerique parentum
blanditiis facile ingenium fregere superbum.
tunc et amicitiem coeperunt iungere aventes
finitimi inter se nec laedere nec violari,                                   1020
et pueros commendarunt muliebreque saeclum,
vocibus et gestu cum balbe significarent
imbecillorum esse aequum misererier omnis.
nec tamen omnimodis poterat concordia gigni,
sed bona magnaque pars servabat foedera caste;               1025
aut genus humanum iam tum foret omne peremptum
nec potuisset adhuc perducere saecla propago.  

casa: shelter, dwelling-place
pellis (f.): pelt, hide (pellis = pelles (acc. pl.)
* a line is missing with a noun agreeing with unum, for which coniugium is the best option (`they  retired  into a single marriage’ as opposed to the free sex they practised before), a conjunction and a noun agreeing with cognita. Probably the sentence runs `rhe ritired into a single (union and the laws of marriage were learnt.’ Following the suggestion in the edition by Benfield – Reeves)
mollesco: to soften (i.e. to become civilized)
alsius: cold (only found in Lucretius)
frigus frigoris (n.): coldness
caeli sub tegmine: under the vault of heaven
ita iam: as well (as before – because their bodies were softened!)
inminuo inminui inminutum: to lessen, diminish
viris = vires
puerique parentum blanditiis facile ingenium fregere superbum = puerique  facike ingenium superbum (the fierce temperament) parentum blanditiis fregere (= fregerunt)
blanditia blanditiae: flatteries, blandishments
frango fregi fractum: to break (both words come from the common Indo-European root *bhr(e)g)
amicities = amicitia (this form only here)
aveo: to long for (object: amicitiem)
finitimus: neighbour
commendo: to entrust
muliebre saeclum: the female race
vocibus et gestu cum = cum vocibus et gestu
balbe: in a stammering way (as they had not yet discovered language)
imbecillorum esse aequum misererier omnis = aequum esse omnis imbecillorum misererier (= misereri)
aequus: fair, reasonable
omnis = omnes (acc of the aci)
imbecillis: weak
misereor (+ gen.) to have pity with
omnimodis: in every way, wholly
gigno genui genitus: to come forth
servabat foedera caste: kept their treaties pure
foret = esset
perimo peremi peremptum: to destroy
propago propaginis (f.): offspring
perduco perduxi perductum: continue through

Translation by John Selby Watson (1880)

Afterwards, when they procured huts, and skins, and fire,
and the woman, united to the man, came to dwell in the
same place with him; and when the pure and pleasing con-
nexions of undivided love were known, and they saw a pro-
geny sprung from themselves ; then first the human race
began to be softened and civilized. For fire now rendered
their shivering bodies less able to endure the cold under the
canopy of heaven ; and love diminished their strength ; and
children with their blandishments easily subdued the ferocious
tempers of their parents. Then, also, neighbours, feeling a
mutual friendship, began to form agreements not to hurt or
injui'e one another; and they commended, with sounds and
gestures, their children, and the female sex, to each other's
protection ; while they signified, with imperfect speech, that
it is right for every one to have compassion on the weak.
Such concord, however, could not be established universally ;
but the better and greater part kept their faith inviolate, or
the human race would then have been wholly destroyed, and
the species could not have continued its generations to the
present period.