Saturday, 25 July 2015

Johannis de Capua: saved by a quarrel.

Some time ago I published a post with a text from Johannis de Capua’s Directorium humanae vitae alias parabola antiquorum sapientum. Going through piles of books in my far too small combined study- and living room, I found again the copy of this text. Johannis de Capua (1250-1310) was a Jew who converted to Christianity. He translated a Hebrew translation of the Kalīla wa Dimna into Latin. The Kalīla wa Dimna  is an Arabic translation of a Persian text, which in its turn is an adaptation of the Sanskrit collection of fables of the Panchatantra. With such a train of translations and adaptations, things are bound to go lost. Not only details changed, but the social world of Hinduism of the Panchatantra was not understood either and those elements were eliminated. For instance in the original the heremita was a Brahmin practicing severe yoga, as can be seen in the way he is depicted in the original, but this somewhere got lost in translation. What also got lost is the delightful mixture of prose and poetry. Nevertheless this translation proved to be an instant success and various translations in vernacular languages appeared.
In the following story a thief wants to steal a cow from a hermit but on his way he meets a demon, who wants the kill the man. They reach the house, but the thief is afraid that the hermit will wake up when and scream when the demon tries to kill him and so arouse the neighbours. He proposes to steal the cow first, but the demon is not willing to let him do this and so they start a quarrel. The hermit awakes and is warned by the thief. The moral of this story is that one must trust on animosity between one’s enemies.
The Latin is not difficult, but far from classical.

Johannis de Capua, Directorium,  5.5        

Dicitur fuisse heremita, cui data fuit vacca una; et cum duceret eam ad domum suam, quidam fur vidit illam, et furandi curam adhibuit. Ibat autem fur post eum usque ad domum heremitae; et cum esset in via, obviavit ei daemon in figura hominis. Cui dixit fur: Quis es tu? aut quid intendis? At ille respondit: Ego quidem sum daemon, et intendo nocte ista suffocare heremitam; et nunc sequor eum, donec homines sint in somno; tunc exurgam contra ipsum et interficiam eum. Et ait ei fur: Ego similiter intendo ire ad domum suam et furari vaccam suam. Et euntes iverunt pariter ad domum heremitae. Ingrediens autem heremita domum introduxit vaccam et comedit et intravit suum cubiculum ad dormiendum. Et cogitans fur dixit in corde suo: Dubito ne forte quando accedens hic daemon ad suffocandum heremitam, clamabit ipse, et succurrent ei homines, et non potero capere vaccam, sed me videntes capient et interficient me. Dixit ergo fur daemoni: Sile parum, et dimitte me capere vaccam prius quam tuam adimplebis voluntatem. Cui respondit daemon: Nequaquam hoc faciam, sed prius ipsum volo interficere, et postea facias quod intendis. Ab ille dicebat: Nequaquam, sed ego incipiam. Et orta discordia inter ipsos, fortiter inceperunt pugnare et rixari ad invicem, donec fur vocaret heremitam dicens ei: Surge, quia iste daemon vult te suffocare. Et excitatus heremita et sua familia, fugierunt fur et daemon, et sic evasit heremita a periculo mortis.

vacca: cow
fur furis (m.): thief
furandi curam adhibuit: `took the plan of stealing’
suffoco: to throttle, suffocate
exurgam = exsurgam (exsurgo: to rise up)
comedo: to eat
cubiculum: bed
quando accedens: when approaching
sile parum: wait for a moment
dimitte me: allow me
adimpleo: to fulfil
nequaquam: not at all
succurro: to come to help
rixor: to quarrel

Here is a translation from the Sanskrit by the American indologist  Arthur W. Ryder (1877-1939). Note the differences with the Latin story.

The Brahman, the Thief, and the Ghost

There was once a poor Brahman in a certain place. He lived on presents, and always did without such luxuries as fine clothes and ointments and perfumes and garlands and gems and betel-gum. His beard and his nails were long, and so was the hair that covered his head and his body. Heat, cold, rain, and the like had dried him up. [344}
Then someone pitied him and gave him two calves. And the Brahman began when they were little and fed them on butter and oil and fodder and other things that he begged. So he made them very plump. Then a thief saw them and the idea came to him at once: "I will steal these two cows from this Brahman."
So he took a rope and set out at night. But on the way he met a fellow with a row of sharp teeth set far apart, with a high-bridged nose and uneven eyes, with limbs covered with knotty muscles, with hollow cheeks, with beard and body as yellow as a fire with much butter in it.
And when the thief saw him, he started with acute fear and said: "Who are you, sir?"
The other said: "I am a ghost named Truthful. It is now your turn to explain yourself."
The thief said: "I am a thief, and my acts are cruel. I am on my way to steal two cows from a poor Brahman."
Then the ghost felt relieved and said: "My dear sir, I take one meal every three days. So I will just eat this Brahman today. It is delightful that you and I are on the same errand."
So together they went there and hid, waiting for the proper moment. And when 'the Brahman went to sleep, the ghost started forward to eat him. But the thief saw him and said: "My dear sir, this is not right. You are not to eat the Brahman until I have stolen his two cows." [345}
The ghost said: "The racket would most likely wake the Brahman. In that case all my trouble would be vain." "But, on the other hand," said the thief, "if any hindrance arises when you start to eat him, then I cannot steal the two cows either. First I will steal the two cows, then you may eat the Brahman."
So they disputed, each crying "Me first! Me first!" And when they became heated, the hubbub waked the Brahman.
Then the thief said: "Brahman, this is a ghost who wishes to eat you."
And the ghost said: "Brahman, this is a thief who wishes to steal your two cows."
When the Brahman heard this, he stood up and took a good look. And by remembering a prayer to his favourite god, he saved his life from the ghost, then lifted a club and saved his two cows from the thief.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Augustine on the horror of beating schoolboys.

Last week I visited a befriended couple with 3 young children. I played some game with the daughter of 3 and a half and of course I lost because we had to play according to her rules. A set of rules within a restricted area of time and/or place is called a game or play. Not only within games or sports we have such rules, but also outside those fields. In 1938 the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga published his study Homo Ludens, in which he gave a description of play as an element of culture. To be sure: he did not mean sports or game, but the concept of play self as constituent. For instance, negotiations between states have an element of play or the way a judge and lawyers behave in a court case. Huizinga was initially trained as a Sanskrit scholar and was well aware of the role of play and gambling in the Mahabharata and his dissertation was about the role of the vidusaka (jester) in Sanskrit drama, so his interest in the concept of play may have originated in his initial Ausbilding.
Within a different context St Augustine too pointed to the concept of play in culture, but for him man was a homo peccans and play is all that which distracts the soul away from God.  He recalls that as a child he was punished for playing rather than studying. As O’Connel remarks in his online commentary on the Confessiones, it never occurs to Augustine that the child's idleness could be anything but culpable. The focus and the implementation are different, but Augustine draws the same parallel as Huizinga. But where for Huizinga ludere is a positive constituent of culture, it is for Augustine something reprehensible. But if reprehensible, how should a teacher deal with it? Augustine deeply condemns the way teachers dealt with playful children: namely by hard punishment. Being far from a saintly schoolboy, he often had to suffer such punishments. He felt such punishments were unjust because adults often acted in the same way as children, but they called it differently: `maiorum nugae negotia vocantur’ (the trifles of adults are called business). Indeed he himself bemoans that he too used what he had learnt as a kind of play while teaching rhetoric before he turned to religion.
The first sentence is a bit complicated, both in grammar and chain of thought. Clearly it is an emotional outcry. The idea is I think thus: is there someone who out of a deep love (praegrandi affectu ) for God considers instruments of torture as little and at the same time loves those who fear such instruments?  How is it than that our parents laugh at us when we are beaten up by teachers, when at the same time they fear torture from the state when brought to court?
In the final sentence Augustine points to the fact that adults show the same emotions when they lose a some trifle dispute as he felt when beaten at some ball game. In his critique of corporeal punishment of children as a pedagogical mean Augustine was ways ahead of his time.

Augustinus Confessiones, 1.9.15

estne quisquam, domine, tam magnus animus, praegrandi affectu tibi cohaerens, estne, inquam, quisquam - facit enim hoc quaedam etiam stoliditas - est ergo, qui tibi pie cohaerendo ita sit affectus granditer, ut eculeos et ungulas atque huiuscemodi varia tormenta (pro quibus effugiendis tibi per universas terras cum timore magno supplicatur) ita parvi aestimet, diligens eos qui haec acerbissime formidant, quemadmodum parentes nostri ridebant tormenta quibus pueri a magistris affligebamur? non enim aut minus ea metuebamus aut minus te de his evadendis deprecabamur, et peccabamus tamen minus scribendo aut legendo aut cogitando de litteris quam exigebatur a nobis. non enim deerat, domine, memoria vel ingenium, quae nos habere voluisti pro illa aetate satis, sed delectabat ludere et vindicabatur in nos ab eis qui talia utique agebant. sed maiorum nugae negotia vocantur, puerorum autem talia cum sint, puniuntur a maioribus, et nemo miseratur pueros vel illos vel utrosque. nisi vero approbat quisquam bonus rerum arbiter vapulasse me, quia ludebam pila puer et eo ludo impediebar quominus celeriter discerem litteras, quibus maior deformius luderem. aut aliud faciebat idem ipse a quo vapulabam, qui si in aliqua quaestiuncula a condoctore suo victus esset, magis bile atque invidia torqueretur quam ego, cum in certamine pilae a conlusore meo superabar?

animus: person
praegrandis: huge
stoliditas –atis (f.): dullness, stubbornness (post cl. Latin word)
sit affectus granditer: in such an exalted mood
eculeus: a wooden rack in the shape of a horse
ungula: a claw to tear the skin open
supplico: beseech, beg
dilligens: concessive `though he loves’ (some translations follow the reading deridens, found in one manuscript. Unfortunately all English online translations do.)
acerbissime: most strongly
formido: to fear
quemadmodum: as for instance
te…deprecabamur:  we (as children) beseeched you
quam exigebatur a nobis: than was demanded from us
pro illa aetate satis:  enough for that age
delectabat: impersonal `it delighted’
vindicabatur in nos ab eis qui talia utique agebant:  we were punished by those who did  surely the same things (vindicabatur: impersonal construction)
vapulo: to be flogged (note that this word is passive in English!)
pila: ball
impedior: to hamper
quibus maior deformius luderem: by which as adult I used to play in a scandalous way
idem ipse: the very same
quaestiuncula: a question of no importance
condoctor: fellow teacher (late Latin)
bilis –is (f.): bile, anger


Drawing after a fresco at Herculaneum of a boy being punished at a school.