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

 I.
              
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

II.
              
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

III
              
Pone merum et talos, pereat, qui crastina curat.

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

App. Verg., Copa 37

 IV.
              
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)

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