Saturday, 29 April 2017

Pliny: retirement.

Pliny has heard that his friend Pomponius Bassus has retired and writes a letter to congratulate him: now he has time for travelling, reading and living at ease. It is noteworthy how this life of retirement does not differ much from that of modern day well off pensioners. If I may believe advertisements, it must be fantastic. We will see, still some years to go.

Plinius, Epistulae, 4. 23


1 Magnam cepi voluptatem, cum ex communibus amicis cognovi te, ut sapientia tua dignum est, et disponere otium et ferre, habitare amoenissime, et nunc terra nunc mari corpus agitare, multum disputare, multum audire, multum lectitare, cumque plurimum scias, cotidie tamen aliquid addiscere. 2 Ita senescere oportet virum, qui magistratus amplissimos gesserit, exercitus rexerit, totumque se rei publicae quam diu decebat obtulerit. 3 Nam et prima vitae tempora et media patriae, extrema nobis impertire debemus, ut ipsae leges monent, quae maiorem annis otio reddunt. 4 Quando mihi licebit, quando per aetatem honestum erit imitari istud pulcherrimae quietis exemplum? quando secessus mei non desidiae nomen sed tranquillitatis accipient? Vale.

S: salutem dicit
cum cognavi te: when I learnt that you
dignus (+abl.):  worthy of
disponere otium et ferre: to arrange and experience your retirement
amoenissime: most pleasantly
agito: to exercise
disputo: to discuss
lectito: to read
cumque: and though
addisco addidici: to learn in addition
qui magistratus amplissimos gesserit: who has fulfilled the most splendid magisterial offices
quam diu decebat: as long as was fitting
offero obtuli oblatum: to dedicate (+ dat.)
tempora vitae also with media and extrema
impertio impertivi impertivus: to give oneself, devote
ipsae leges: it is unclear what laws exactly and what age they refer to, but 60 or 65 year is likely.
maiorem annis: a man of advanced years
reddo reddidi redditum: to grant (+ dat.)
per aetatem: because of my age
honestum erit imitari: it will be hounorable to follow
quietis: of rest (from duties, not from being inactive)
secessus –us (m.): recess, holiday
desidia: idleness
nomen accipient: will receive the designation of

Translation Done into English By several Hands. 1723

IT was a great Satisfaction to me, to hear from our Common Friends, that you, as it becomes your good Sense, employ your Leisure and bear it, live very delightfully, make Use of Exercise, by Land or Water, converse, hear, and read very much; and tho' you are very knowing, yet you daily learn. Thus the Man should grow old, who has gone thro' the greatest Offices, has commanded Armies, and given himself up entirely, as far as it was fit for him, to the Common-wealth. For we ought to sacrifice the First and the Middle Times of Life to our Country, the last to our selves; as the very Laws admonish us, which restore a Man, that is past his LXth Year, to his private Repose. When shall I have that Liberty? When shall my Age make it reputable for me to Copy after this Pattern of honourable Ease? When shall my Retreat have the Name, not of Supineness, but of Tranquility?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Juvenal: watchful windows...

Walking by night through a densely populated city has its dangers and one of these is being hit by some utensil thrown out from a high window. This is one of the many complaints uttered by a friend of Juvenal, when he is about to leave Rome and settle elsewhere. Such danger was not confined to antiquity, but op to the 19th century people were at risk of being hit by stuff thrown out a window, as there was no sanitation and no garbage collection. Easy going times then.

Juvenalis, Satura 3, 268-277.

Respice nunc alia ac diversa pericula noctis:
quod spatium tectis sublimibus unde cerebrum
testa ferit, quotiens rimosa et curta fenestris                   270
vasa cadant, quanto percussum pondere signent
et laedant silicem. possis ignavus haberi
et subiti casus inprovidus, ad cenam si
intestatus eas: adeo tot fata, quot illa
nocte patent vigiles te praetereunte fenestrae.                   275
ergo optes votumque feras miserabile tecum,
ut sint contentae patulas defundere pelves.
quod spatium: what distance (= height). The height of building (tectum) was limited to 21 meters.
sublimis: elevated
testa: earthen vessel
inprovidus, careless, reckless
ferio: to strike, hit (Though it was forbidden to throw items from windows on the street, this was often ignored.)
rimosus: full of cracks
curtus: broken
vas vasis (n. plur. vasa vasorum): utensil, pot
quanto percussum pondere signent et laedant silicem: with what weight (pondus –eris, n.) they might mark the impact and damage (laedo laesi laesum,ere) the pavement.
ignavus: sluggish
subiti casus inprovidus: careless for (gen. obj.) sudden accidents
ad cenam: in a world without television and internet, dining with friends was a favourite way of spending evenings.
intestatus: without a will
adeo: indeed
pateo patui: to stand open
vigiles fenestrae: `the watchful windows’, as if the windows are watching passers-by and wait for them to hit them with whatever is thrown out. Note how effectively te praetereunte (when you are passing by) is placed between adjective and verb: watchful – and there is a victim! – windows.
optes votumque feras tecum: pray and carry your prayer with you (as a kind of amulet)
ut sint (fenestrae)
contentae: i.e. they are just pleased (contentus) to throw out the content of the patulas pelves (shallow basins, i.e. chamber pots) and not more harmful stuff.
defundo defudi defusum (-ere): to pour down

Translation by G. G. Ramsay (1918)

"And now regard the different and diverse perils of the night. See what a height it is to that towering roof from which a potsherd comes crack upon my head every time that some broken or leaky vessel is pitched out of the window! See with what a smash it strikes and dints the pavement! There's death in every open window as you pass along at night; you may well be deemed a fool, improvident of sudden accident, if you go out to dinner without having made your will. You can but hope, and put up a piteous prayer in your heart, that they may be content to pour down on you the contents of their slop-basins!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Walahfridus Strabo: a useful herb.

The cultivation of herbs was an important part of the work of monasteries in the Middle Ages. Medical care was often in the hands of dedicated monks and they mostly had no other options than using herbs and a lot of praying for the sick.
Walahfridus Strabo (808 – 849) was abbot at Reichenau and an important Carolinian writer. Amongst his many works is a poem about cultivating an herbal garden, Liber de Cultura Hortorum also known as Hortulus, in which he describes 24 plants. He dedicated this poem to his friend Grimaldus, abbot of Sankt Gallen. Whether or not Walahfridus was himself an enthusiastic gardener is unknown, but he was at least an enthusiastic poet and with this work he has created the oldest didactic poem on herbs in the Middle Ages
The following poem is about sage, still a popular herb for use in the kitchen, but I don't think it is still in use as a medical herb.

Walahfridus Strabo, Hortulus, IV Salvia (Salvia officinalis L.)
Meter: hexameter

    Lelifagus prima praefulget fronte locorum,
    Dulcis odore, gravis virtute atque utilis haustu.
    Pluribus haec hominum morbis prodesse reperta
    Perpetuo viridi meruit gaudere iuventa.
    Sed tolerat civile malum: nam saeva parentem
    Progenies florum, fuerit ni dempta, perurit
    Et facit antiquos defungier invida ramos.

lelifagus: derived from ἐλελίσφακος, the Greek name for salvia
prima: with (in) fronte `at the very entrance’
locorum: of the places (i.e. the plant beds).  So salvia stood at the entrance of the garden.
praefulgeo: to glitter in front, shine greatly
gravis: eminent
haec: despite the masculine gender of lelifagus
haustu: supinum of haurio `to drink’
morbus: disease
prodesse reperta: found to be useful
perpetuo viridi meruit gaudere iuventa: she had deserved to enjoy (gaudeo + abl.) her green youth for ever
tolero (-are): to endure, suffer
civile malum: civil strife
saeva parentem progenies florum perurit : the wild child destroys the parental flower. New sprouts of Salvia have to be cut in time as otherwise it will overgrow the parental plant.
demo dempsi demptum (-ere): to remove
facit defungier ( = defungi): causes to die (The archaic form defungier is found in Terence. Roman comedies were well-known during the Middle Ages.)
invidus: envious
ramus: branch