Friday, 8 July 2016

Carmina Burana 93a: time of youth forever gone.

As often, the writer of the following poem is unknown, but it is tempting to pick up the pieces of information given to gain some information. The poem is written in retrospect of the youth by a man who is now a senex, an old man. Old is a relative concept: people nowadays of middle age, would be considered as old in the mediaeval times. I even heard that 60 is the new 40, so some progress has been made since those ages.
Complaining about the vicissitudes of Fortuna is a topos, but stanza 1 and 2 suggest that a once successful man – in wealth and with ladies - has retired for whatever reason and is now living a spiritual life. In the third stanza the poet contemplates about the unicorn (rhinoceros, an indeclinable word), who can only be captured by a virgin, a true virgin that is. In the next stanza he tells that there is no need for girls to be afraid of him, as he is now living like a unicorn, that is a living a life a chastity. The identification of the poet with the unicorn is also interesting in the light of the previous stanza: does he doubt the innocence of maidens going out with young men?
The last stanza has an air of resignation: the poet realizes that he is too old now for maidens and has to leave them for younger men. Courting is compared with a threshing floor: the maidens are the corn (frumentum) to be picked up by young men and the chaff (palea) is left for old men,
Ah, time of youth for ever lost and never to return!

Carmina Burana 93a
(Note that ae is written as e. There is no translation on internet, but the poem is not that difficult)
Cum Fortuna voluit    me vivere beatum,
forma, bonis moribus    fecit bene gratum
et in altis sedibus    sedere laureatum.
Modo flos preteriit    mee iuventutis,
in se trahit omnia    tempus senectutis;
inde sum in gratia    novissime salutis.
Rhinoceros virginibus    se solet exhibere;
sed cuius est virginitas    intemerata vere,
suo potest gremio    hunc sola retinere.
Igitur que iuveni    virgo sociatur
et me senem spreverit,    iure defraudatur,
ut ab hac rhinoceros    se capi patiatur.
In tritura virginum    debetur seniori
pro mercede palea,    frumentum iuniori;
inde senex aream    relinquo successori.

forma: abl. `good looks’
fecit gratum: made me popular
in altis sedibus: in a high (social) position
laureatus: crowned with laurels
modo: but, then
paetereo (praeter-ire) –iiitum: to pass away, perish
in se trahit omnia    tempus senectutis:  old age is a kind black hole from which no escape is possible: you can’t go back to your youth
inde:  thence (i.e. from the time of my youth)
in gratia novissime salutis: in the grace of the ultimate salvation. Having left the sins of his youth behind him, the poet can now concentrate on his eternal salvation.
exhibeo exhibui exibitum: to present, exhibit
intemeratus: chaste, pure
gremium: lap
hunc: the rhinoceros
iuvenis -is (m.): young man
sociatur: reflexive use of the passive
sperno (-ere) sprevi spretum: to despise
iure…patiatur: is really mistaken (thinking) that she can let her self be captured by this unicorm
tritura: chaffing
debetur…palea: the chaff must belong to
pro mercede: as reward
area: playfield 


Maiden with Unicorn, tapestry, 15th century (Musée de Cluny, Paris)


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