Thursday, 30 March 2017

Plautus, Truculentus: Tricks of the trade.

It was not unusual for urbane rich Roman young men to frequent a brothel and have a single prostitute (meretrix) for some time. Of course these prostitutes tried to get as much money as possible out of these men and had no mercy, when they were financially ruined: enough other young men to seduce. Not having a meretrix was seen as problematic, but the potential loss of money. Roman comedy exploited such relations and this especially true of Plautus’ Truculentus (`the grim’, the name of the slave who had to rescue the situation for his master.)
The following lines are taken from the beginning of the second act: Dinarchus, a young man impoverished by spending too much money on his meretrix Phronesium, has just entered the house in order to speak with this shrewd lady. Astaphium – maid of Phronesium and herself well acquainted with the oldest profession - is waiting outside the door of the brothel and tells the tricks of her trade. Nothing has changed much since, I guess.

The Latin of Plautus differs from Classical Latin: it has older spellings like o for u, elision of the e in est (e.g. vitast = vita est) and the use of words and meanings considered obsolete in the Classical period.

Plautus, Truculentus, 217 - 231

dum fuit, dedit; nunc nihil habet: quod habebat nos habemus,
iste id habet quod nos habuimus. humanum facinus factumst.
actutum fortunae solent mutari, varia vitast:
nos divitem istum meminimus atque iste pauperes nos:  220
verterunt sese memoriae; stultus sit qui id miretur.
si eget, necessest nos pati: amavit, aequom ei factum est.
piaculumst miserere nos hominum rei male gerentum.
bonis esse oportet dentibus lenam probam,
adripere ut quisquis veniat blandeque adloqui,        225
male corde consultare, bene lingua loqui.
meretricem sentis similem esse condecet,
quemquem hominem attigerit, profecto ei aut malum aut damnum dare.
numquam amatoris meretricem oportet causam noscere,
quin, ubi nil det, pro infrequente eum mittat militia domum.       230
nec umquam erit probus quisquam amator nisi qui rei inimicust suae.

dum fuit (ei): as long as he had something.
id: i.e. poverty
facinus –oris (n.): deed (in Classical Latin often an evil deed, but here without that pejorative meaning: humanum facinus factumst (factum est): it is simply human to do so.)
actutum:  quickly
divitem istum: him as a rich man
memoriae: the things remembered, i.e. money
si eget, necessest nos pati: if he is in want, we must endure that. i.e. we should show no mercy
aequom (= aequum) ei factum est:  a fair thing has happened to him. i.e. in return for loving a meretrix he is now poor.
piaculum: sin-offering or something which requires a sin-offering, hence:  crime. (Others take piaculum in the first meaning and regard it as ironical from the mouth of the immoral Astaphium.)
rei male gerentum (= gerentium): badly performing for their own interest
bonis dentibus: beautiful teeth (Think of currentday toothpast advertisements)
lena: prostitute
probus: good
ut: as soon as
adripio: to take hold of
blande: flatteringly
sentis- is (m.): thorn (similis + gen)
condecet = decet
attingo attigi attactum: to touch (here both physically and mentally)
profecto: indeed
amatoris causam noscere: to know the interest of  her lover, i.e. to have pity with him
quin…mittat: but she must send him
pro infrequente militia: as a deserting soldier (infrequente (not turning up regularly) suppl. milite) from the army (ab militia)
nisi qui:unless he

Translation by Henry Thomas Riley (1912)

While he had it, he gave; now he has got nothing; what he did have, we have got; what we had, he has now got the same. The common course of things has happened. For. tunes are wont to change upon the instant. Life is checquered. We remember him as rich, and he us as poor; our reminiscences have shifted places. He must be a fool to wonder at it. If he is in want, it's necessary that he should allow us to make a living; that's proper to be done. 'Twere a disgrace for us to have compassion on men that squander away their fortunes. A clever Procuress ought to have good teeth; to smile upon whoever comes, to address him in flattering terms; to design mischief in her heart, but to speak fairly with her tongue. A Courtesan it befits to be like a briar; whatever man she touches, for either mischief or loss certainly to be the result. A Courtesan ought never to listen to the plea of a lover, but, when he has nothing to give, do you pack him off home from service as a deserter
; and never is any gallant good for anything unless he's one who is the enemy of his own fortune.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Martial 5,34: little Erotion.

Martial is famous - or infamous – for his satirical, sexual explicit and misogynistic poetry, actually the reason why he is still rather widely read. The following poem has nothing of that all, but is a moving poem on the death of a girl of nearly six: Erotion. Her parents were slaves, or at least her mother. Martial must have been very fond of her and this epigram is a tribute to her short life.

Martialis 5,34

Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
     oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvula ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
     oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,              5
     vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
     et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
     terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.              10

Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla: Martial’s deceased parents
commendo (-are): to intrust, commend
oscula… deliciasque meas: apposition to puellam
deliciae –arum: darling
parvulus: diminutive of parvus
horresco horrui: to be terrified
nigras umbras: i.e. the phantoms of the deceased
Tartarei canis:  Cerberus, the hound of Hades. He had three heads, hence ora.
prodigiosus: unnatural, prodigious
impletura: about to fulfil
frigus –oris (n.): coldness
bruma: the shortest day, but by extension also used for `winter’ and in poetry also for `year’.
ni = nisi
minus totidem dies: the same amount of days less, i.e. she died six days before her sixth birthday.
lascivius: playful
patronos: Martial’s parents serve now as Erotion’s patrons. Her death has set Erotion free, but a freed slave needed a patronus under Roman law, who had the responsibility for some material welfare and could serve as a representative in court.
blaesus: lisping, speaking indistinctly
garrio: to chatter
caespes –itis (m.): turf, grassy field

Translation by A.S. Klyne.

To your shades Fronto, and Flacilla, this child
I commend: she was my sweet and my delight.
Little Erotion shall not fear the darkened shades
nor the vast mouths of the Tartarean hound.
She’d have completed her sixth chill winter,
if she’d not lived a mere six days too few.
Now let her frisk and play among old friends
now let her chatter, and so lisp my name.
And let the soft turf cover her brittle bones:
earth, lie lightly on her: she lay lightly on you.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cicero, De divinatione: how Thales made a fortune.

In his De Divinatione Cicero sets out arguments in favour of divination and arguments against. In the first book his brother Quintus is the spokes mouth of the arguments pro, whereas Cicero is refuting the arguments in book two. Cicero has rendered historians of religion a great service, as he explains into detail all kinds of divination. Through Quintus he points to numerous examples of the validity of divination, but also mentions those cases of foreknowledge we would call scientific knowledge and common sense. In this context he mentions an anecdote about Thales of Miletus (c. 624 – c. 546 BC), the first known Greek philosopher and whose extant writings are unfortunately limited to a few quotes. Philosophers were already in antiquity seen as a bit weird and out of touch with reality and so people were making fun of Thales, saying that he couldn’t make money. Thales’ philosophical studies also included the working of nature and foreseeing an excellent harvest for olives, he bought in advance all crop - or to another tradition all olive presses - and was now a monopolist, who could ask any price he wanted. The anecdote is obviously legendary and the same story goes about Democritus, but it shows that philosophers are not that mad. May be they are simply not interested in making money.

Cicero, De Divinitatione, 1, 111.

Rarum est quoddam genus eorum, qui se a corpore avocent et ad divinarum rerum cognitionem cura omni studioque rapiantur. Horum sunt auguria non divini impetus, sed rationis humanae; nam et natura futura praesentiunt, ut aquarum eluviones et deflagrationem futuram aliquando caeli atque terrarum; alii autem in re publica exercitati, ut de Atheniensi Solone accepimus, orientem tyrannidem multo ante prospiciunt. Quos prudentes possumus dicere, id est providentes, divinos nullo modo possumus, non plus quam Milesium Thalem, qui, ut obiurgatores suos convinceret ostenderetque etiam philosophum, si ei commodum esset, pecuniam facere posse, omnem oleam, ante quam florere coepisset, in agro Milesio coemisse dicitur.

a corpore: i.e. from pleasure
avoco: to withdraw
divinarum rerum: though we would call this rather the study of nature, in the opinion of Quintus, being an adherent of Stoic philosophy, there was no difference between god and nature. Cf. Spinoza `Deus sive natura’.
studium: zeal
rapiuntur: are being driven
impetus –us (m.): impulse
praesentiosensi -sensum: perceive in advance
eluvio –onis (f.): inundation
deflagratio –onis (f.): consuming by fire (The Stoics believed that one day the cosmos would be consumed by a cosmic fire and then rise again.)
accepimis: we have heard
Solon (c. 638 – c. 558 BC), the famous Athenian statesman, whose constitutional reforms tried to reconcile the various opposing factions in Athens. His relative Peisistratus ended these reforms by absorbing absolute power. Solon was also one of the seven sages, as was Thales.
orior ortus: to arise
prudentes id est providentes:  prudens is contracted from providens
obiurgator –oris (m.): chider, rebuker
convinco –vici –victum: to refute
si ei commodum esset: if it pleases him

W. A. Falconer (1923

"However, there is a certain class of men, though small in number, who withdraw themselves from carnal influences and are wholly possessed by an ardent concern for the contemplation of things divine. Some of these men make predictions, not as the result of direct heavenly inspiration, but by the use of their own reason. For example, by means of natural law, they foretell certain events, such as a flood, or the future destruction of heaven and earth by fire. Others, who are engaged in public life, like Solon of Athens,123 as history describes him, discover the rise of tyranny long in advance. Such men we may call 'foresighted' — that is, 'able to foresee the future'; but we can no more apply the term 'divine' to them than we can apply it to Thales of Miletus, who, as the story goes, in order to confound his critics and thereby show that even a philosopher, if he sees fit, can make money, bought up the entire olive crop in the district of Miletus before it had begun to bloom.