Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Paulus Diaconus: elegy for Sophia.

Paulus Diaconus (720-799), in English better known as Paul the Deacon, is best known for his Historia Longobardorum, but he also wrote poetry.  Thousands of pages of early mediaeval poetry must lie hidden in unread volumes published in the 19th century. I won’t say that it is all great poetry, but there are other than literary reasons to read such poems: they give us glimpses of life and mentality of early mediaeval society. Fortunately those by Paulus Diaconus are available on internet. The following poem is an epitaph for Sophia. As she is a neptis (niece), it is thought that she was the niece of Paulus, but neptis can also mean granddaughter and it has been suggested that she was the granddaughter of the Lombardic queen Ansa (died after 774). All we know about Sophia is from this poem. She must have been a gifted girl, though some exaggeration is not uncommon in this kind of poetry, and about to marry, so some 14-15 years old. This poem, written in elegiac couplets, is not without charm.
I found this poem in Helen Waddel’s More Latin Lyrics (posthumously published in 1976), so her translation is not available on internet and no earlier translation seems to exist. Maybe an incentive for someone to make a poetic translation?
An edition with a German commentary on the poems of Paulus Diaconus:

Roscida de lacrimis miserorum terra parentum
  Haec te, gemma micans, cara Sophia, tenet.
Tu decus omne tuis, virgo speciosa, fuisti,
  Qua non his terris gratior ulla manet.
Heu fueras teneris, dulcis, tam docta sub annis,
  Longaevi ut cuperent iam tua verba senes.
Et quae longa dies aliis praestare puellis
  Vix poterat, raptim cuncta fuere tibi.
Te moriente avia iam vivere posse negavit,
  Illius et mortis mors tua causa fuit.
Iam thalamus sponsusque tibi parabantur, et inde
  Spes quoque iam nobis grata nepotis erat:
Hei mihi, pro thalamo dedimus tibi, virgo, sepulchrum,
  Pro taedis miserum funeris officium.
Tundimus heu maesti pro plausu pectora pugnis;
  Pro cythara et cantu planctus ubique sonat.
Gemmantem vitem decoxit saeva pruina,
  Purpureamque tulit dira procella rosam.

roscidus: dewy, wet
haec (terra)
gemma: gem
mico: to gleam
decus  decoris (n.): grace
qua = quā (connecting relative)…manet: no other (girl) remains on this earth more beautiful than you (were).
sub teneris annis: given your young years
longaevi senes: very old men
cuperent: stuperent instead of cuperent occurs in two of the three manuscripts and is probably the original reading, so not `they longed for’, but `were astonished at’.
quae: acc. neuter plural
praesto praestiti praestitum: grant, give (i.e. for learning)
vix: hardly
raptim cuncta fuere (= fuerunt): that all was speedily (learnt)
avia: grandmother (despite being nominative: aviā)
thalamus: bridal chamber, marriage
sponsus: bridegroom
spes grata nepotis: dear hope for a grandson (nepos)
taeda: nuptial torch
tudo tutudi tunsum (tusum): to strike, beat
maestus: sad
plausus (m.): clapping
planctus planctus (m.): lamentation
gemmo: to bud, gem
vitis vitis (f.): a vine
decoquo decoxi decoctum: to destroy
pruina: hoar-frost, rime
tulit: has carried away
dirus: cruel, fierce
procella: storm

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