Monday, 8 January 2018

Apuleius: Eternal Isis.

One of the most interesting novels from Antiquity is Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. Apart from it literary merits, it is also one of the few literary sources about the cult of Isis. Mystery cults were highly popular from the Hellenistic time onwards, as they promised a blessed existence after death and it was not uncommon to be initiated in various cults: one never knows! Little is known about their ritual practises and liturgy, but fortunately Apuleius reveals something in his novel and even recites a litany for Isis. To what extend this litany is exemplary for the hymns used is difficult to say, but its unusual structure with the use of much rhyme may indeed point to the use of such hymns.
Wish I – historian of religion – could go back to those times and return with a wealth of information about mystery cults. May Isis grant me that favour!

Apuleius, Metamorphoses, XI, 25.

Tu quidem sancta et humani generis sospitatrix perpetua,
semper fovendis mortalibus munifica,
dulcem matris adfectationem miserorum casibus tribuis.
Nec dies nec quies nulla ac ne momentum quidem tenue
tuis transcurrit beneficiis otiosum,
quin mari terraque protegas homines et depulsis
vitae procellis salutarem porrigas dexteram,
qua fatorum etiam inextricabiliter contorta
retractas licia
et Fortunae tempestates mitigas
et stellarum noxios meatus cohibes.
Te superi colunt,
observant inferi,
tu rotas orbem,
luminas solem,
regis mundum,
calcas tartarum.
Tibi respondent sidera,
redeunt tempora,
gaudent numina,
serviunt elementa.
Tuo nutu spirant flamina,
nutriunt nubila,
germinant semina,
crescunt germina.
Tuam maiestatem perhorrescunt aves caelo meantes,
ferae montibus errantes,
serpentes solo latentes,
beluae ponto natantes.
At ego referendis laudibus tuis exilis ingenio
et adhibendis sacrificiis tenuis patrimonio;
nec mihi vocis ubertas ad dicenda, quae de tua maiestate
sentio, sufficit
nec ora mille linguaeque totidem vel indefessi sermonis
aeterna series.
Ergo quod solum potest religiosus quidem, sed pauper
alioquin, efficere curabo:
divinos tuos vultus numenque sanctissimum intra
pectoris mei secreta conditum perpetuo custodiens imaginabor.

sospitatrix –icis (f.): she who saves
fovendis mortalibus munifica: generous for people needing support
miserorum casibus tribuis: you grant to the fates of those in 
quies: night
momentum tenue: a slight moment
otiosum (encompassing dies, quies and momentum): free from, without (+ abl.)
quin: that not
mari terraque: locatives
depulsis vitae procellis: having driven away the storms of life
porrigo porrexi porrectum: to reach out
dexteram (manum), qua
inextricabiliter contorta licia: the inextricably twisted threads
retracto (-are): (here) to disentangle
meatus –us (m.): movement
cohibeo cohibui: to stop
superi…inferi: the gods above and the gods of the underworld
roto: to turn around
calco: to trample
redeunt tempora: (by your will) the seasons return
numina: the lower gods and daemons
nutus –us (m.): nod
nutriunt nubile: the clouds give rain
germino: to sprout
perhorresco perhorrui: to shiver greatly
meo: to move, pass
fera: wild animal
solum: ground
belua: (sea) monster
ego exilis ingenio (sum): I am (too) weak in talent
referendis laudibus tuis: for telling your praise
adhibeo sacrificia: to bring offers
patrimonium:  inheritance, wealth
vocis ubertas (sufficit): richness in language
totidem: as many
indefessi sermonis: of an inexhaustible language
quidem: however
alioquin: for the rest
divinos tuos vultus:  the plural refers to various aspects of isis
intra pectoris mei secreta conditum: hidden in the secrets of my heart
imaginor imaginatus: (here) to keep in mind

Translation by William Adlington (1566, this text is from the edition of 1639 with the original spelling.)

O holy and blessed dame, the perpetuall comfort of humane kind, who by thy bounty and grace nourishest all the world, and hearest a great affection to the adversities of the miserable, as a loving mother thou takest no rest, neither art thou idle at any time in giving thy benefits, and succoring all men, as well on land as sea; thou art she that puttest away all stormes and dangers from mans life by thy right hand, whereby likewise thou restrainest the fatall dispositions, appeasest the great tempests of fortune and keepest backe the course of the stars: the gods supernall doe honour thee: the gods infernall have thee in reverence: thou environest all the world, thou givest light to the Sunne, thou governest the world, thou treadest downe the power of hell: By thy meane the times returne, the Planets rejoyce, the Elements serve: at thy commandment the winds do blow, the clouds increase, the seeds prosper, and the fruits prevaile, the birds of the aire, the beasts of the hill, the serpents of the den, and the fishes of the sea, do tremble at thy majesty, but my spirit is not able to give thee sufficient praise, my patrimonie is unable to satisfie thy sacrifice, my voice hath no power to utter that which I thinke, no if I had a thousand mouths and so many tongues: Howbeit as a good religious person, and according to my estate, I will alwaies keepe thee in remembrance and close thee within my breast.