Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Ambrosius: Intende qui regis Israel.

As it is now almost Christmas, it is sobering to remind that the date this feast was only fixed somewhere at the end of the 4th century. The Bible tells us nothing about the date and the Gospel of Marc - the oldest gospel – has nothing to say at all about the birth of Jesus. Under popular pressure and theological reflections, such as the rise of the prominence of Mary, a date was fixed, which conveniently was around the same date as some heathen feasts like the Saturnalia. This is of course more than coincidence: though it would be nonsense to claim that it was under the direct influence of Mithraism, the connection between Christ and light was easily made and had its foundation in the Gospel of John. Indeed, there are pictures of Christ resembling the sun-god Apollo; an iconographical resemblance, not a theological.
Possibly Ambrose of Milan (340 – 397) introduced the date of the birth of Jesus in his diocese – Rome had already preceded. It is tempting to think that the following hymn was written for that occasion, but as with the exact historical circumstances of fixing the date of Christmas, this too would overstretch our sources.

Ambrosius, Intende, qui regis Israel. (By far not all biblical parallels have been noted.)

1 Intende, qui regis Israel,            
super Cherubim qui sedes,             qui sedes super
appare Ephraem coram, excita    one of the tribes of Israel
potentiam tuam et veni!               For the first stanza cf. Psalm 79/80

intendo intendi intentum: to give attention
appareo apparui: to appear
coram: before, in front of
excito (-are): bring out, rouse

2 Veni, redemptor gentium,          note the repeating veni
ostende partum virginis,
miretur omne saeculum,             saeculum: both world and age
talis decet partus deo.                    (that) such (a low) birth
                                                            decet here with dative
ostendo ostendi ostentum: to show
partus –us (m.): birth, delivery

3 Non ex virili semine, 
sed mystico spiramine                    spiramen = Holy Ghost
verbum dei factum est caro          cf. John 1.14
fructusque ventris floruit.

4 Alvus tumescit virginis,
claustrum pudoris permanet,        the barrier of chastity remains (closed)
vexilla virtutum micant,
versatur in templo deus.                in templo: i.e. the belly of Mary

alvus (m./f.) : belly
tumesco tumui: to (begin to) swell
vexillum: banner, flag, standard
mico (-are): to vibrate, shine
versor versatus: to dwell

5 Procedat e thalamo suo,           
pudoris aula regia,                          the royal court of chastity (ablative!) = Mary
geminae gigas substantiae,           i.e. His divine and human nature
alacris occurrat viam.                     may he enter the road (of salvation)
procedo processi (-ere): to come/go forth
thalamus: chamber
gigas gigantis (m.): giant
alacris = alacer: quick, eager, happy

6 Egressus eius a patre,                  note the use of e (out) and re (return)
regressus eius ad patrem, 
excursus usque ad inferos,            to those below, i.e. hell
recursus ad sedem dei.

7 Aequalis aeterno patri,               vocative: you who are equal etc.
carnis tropaeo accingere,              accingere: inf. pro imp.
infirma nostri corporis                    infirma firmans: making strong the weak things etc.
virtute firmans perpeti.                 

tropaeum: trophy
perpetuus: eternal (perpeti = perpetii)

8 Praesepe iam fulget tuum
lumenque nox spirat novum, 
quod nulla nox interpolet
fideque iugi luceat.

praesepe –is (n.): stable
fulgeo fulsi (-ere): to flash, glitter
interpolo (-are): to alter
iugis –e: continual, perpetual

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor afbeelding kerst middeleeuwen

Picture from de Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

Performance by Capella Antiqua München, conductor Konrad Ruhland.

Translation by Peter G. Walsh with Christopher Husch (One Hundred Latin Hymns, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 18, 2012)

    Give ear, O king of Israel,
    seated above the Cherubim,
    appear before Ephraim’s face,
    stir up thy mightiness, and come.

    Redeemer of the Gentiles, come;
    show forth the birth from virgin’s womb;
    let every age show wonderment;
    such birth is fitting for our God.

    Not issuing from husband’s seed,
    but from the Spirit’s mystic breath,
    God’s Word was fashioned into flesh,
    and thrived as fruit of Mary’s womb.

    The virgin’s womb begins to swell;
    her maidenhead remains intact:
    the banner of her virtues gleam;
    God in his temple lives and stirs.

    From his chamber let him come forth,
    the royal court of chastity,
    as giant of his twin natures
    eager to hasten on his way.

    First from the Father he set forth,
    then to his Father he returns;
    he sallies to the realms below,
    then journeys back to God’s abode.

    You are the eternal Father’s peer;
    gird on your trophy of the flesh,
    and strengthen with your constant power
    the frailties of our bodies’ frame.

    Your manger now is all aglow,
    the night breathes forth a light unknown;
    a light that never night may shroud,
    and that shall gleam with constant faith.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Pliny II,6: a parsimonious host.

Being a patronus in ancient Rome implied that you had to sustain your clientes and invite them for dinner. In return the clientes supported a patronus when he was striving for some office. Pliny describes in this letter to his young friend Avitus how some patronus cut down the expenses of a meal by serving different qualities of wine and food for the guests, depending on their social status. Pliny felt uneasy about this and disapproved it. Apparently this phenomenon was something new in Rome and spreading, maybe under the pressure of economic circumstances or because of a sharper articulation of differences in social class. Martial too (III. 60) is complaining about this, but unlike Pliny, he belonged to the lower social strata and got the cheaper dishes.
It is as at a Christmas dinner, where friends and family are invited, the host serves cheaper dishes to the new boyfriend of his daughter, as he is not familiar with him, or to other people not belonging to his inner circle. There would be some frowning amongst the guests. Well, it could be a good means to get rid of unwelcome people next Christmas.

Pliny, Letters, II,6


[1] Longum est altius repetere nec refert, quemadmodum acciderit, ut homo minime familiaris cenarem apud quendam, ut sibi videbatur, lautum et diligentem, ut mihi, sordidum simul et sumptuosum. [2] Nam sibi et paucis opima quaedam, ceteris vilia et minuta ponebat. Vinum etiam parvolis lagunculis in tria genera discripserat, non ut potestas eligendi, sed ne ius esset recusandi, aliud sibi et nobis, aliud minoribus amicis (nam gradatim amicos habet), aliud suis nostrisque libertis. [3] Animadvertit qui mihi proximus recumbebat, et an probarem interrogavit. Negavi. 'Tu ergo' inquit 'quam consuetudinem sequeris?' 'Eadem omnibus pono; ad cenam enim, non ad notam invito cunctisque rebus exaequo, quos mensa et toro aequavi.' [4] 'Etiamne libertos?' 'Etiam; convictores enim tunc, non libertos puto.' Et ille: 'Magno tibi constat.' 'Minime.' 'Qui fieri potest?' 'Quia scilicet liberti mei non idem quod ego bibunt, sed idem ego quod liberti.' [5] Et hercule si gulae temperes, non est onerosum quo utaris ipse communicare cum pluribus. Illa ergo reprimenda, illa quasi in ordinem redigenda est, si sumptibus parcas, quibus aliquanto rectius tua continentia quam aliena contumelia consulas.
[6] Quorsus haec? ne tibi, optimae indolis iuveni, quorundam in mensa luxuria specie frugalitatis imponat. Convenit autem amori in te meo, quotiens tale aliquid inciderit, sub exemplo praemonere, quid debeas fugere. [7] Igitur memento nihil magis esse vitandum quam istam luxuriae et sordium novam societatem; quae cum sint turpissima discreta ac separata, turpius iunguntur. Vale.

altius repetere: to go into the matter too deeply
nec refert: and it is not of importance
minime familiaris: hardly familiar
ceno (-are): to dine
ut sibi videbatur, …, ut mihi: as he appeared to himself…, so he appeared to me
lautus: refined
sumptuosus: lavish, extravagant
opina: rich dishes
minuta: poor dishes
parvolus: rather small
laguncula: a small bottle
tria genera: serving two unequal sorts of wine was considered not done, let alone three
describo descripsi descriptum: to distribute
non ut potestas eligendi, sed ne ius esset recusandi: not in order that there would be possibility of choosing, but that there was no right to refuse, i.e. those served the chateau migraine had to drink it as there was no alternative
gradatim: in different social classes
libertus: freedman
animadverto = animam adverto: to turn ones attention
recumbo recubui: to lie down ( = accumbo, remember that the Romans did not sit at around the table but were half lying on couches.)
probo (-are): approve
non ad notam: not ad degradation (referring to the nota censoria, the mark or note which the censors affixed in their lists of citizens to the name of any one whom they censured for immorality or want of patriotism.
(ex)aequo (-are): to make/regard as equal
torus: cushion (on which the guests were lying.)
etiamne libertos? Etiam: even the freedman? Even them
convictor –oris (m.): table companion, guest
consto (-are): to cost (with magno as abl. of price)
quia scilicet (of course, namely) … ego quod liberti: i.e. Pliny drinks the cheaper wine
gula: throat, lavish eating and drinking
tempero (-avi) + dat.: to be moderate in
onerosus: burdensome, costly
quo utaris: what one eats
communico: to share divide
illa (gula)
reprimo repressi repressum: to restrain
ordinem redigenda: to be brought down in rank (properly said of a centurion who was reprimanded and lowered in rank.)
sumptus –us (m.): expense
parco peperci/parsi parsum + abl. : to spare
quibus aliquanto rectius tua continentia quam aliena contumelia consulas: by which you take somewhat better care for containing your expenses than caring for the reproaches of others
quorsus: for what purpose
optimae indolis iuveni (agreeing with tibi): best youthful character = you promising young man
luxuria specie frugalitatis: self-indulgence in the guise of thriftiness  
impono imposui impositum:  (here) to deceive someone (dat.)
convenit: it behoves
amori meo in te: by my affection towards you
sub exemplo: by way of example
praemoneo -ui –itum: to warn beforehand
vito (-are): to avoid
societatem; alliance
sordes -is (f.): meanness,
turpis –is: ugly
discretus: set apart, individual

Translation by J.B.Firth (1900)

It would be a long story - and it is of no importance - to tell you how I came to be dining - for I am no particular friend of his - with a man who thought he combined elegance with economy, but who appeared to me to be both mean and lavish, for he set the best dishes before himself and a few others and treated the rest to cheap and scrappy food. He had apportioned the wine in small decanters of three different kinds, not in order to give his guests their choice but so that they might not refuse. He had one kind for himself and us, another for his less distinguished friends - for he is a man who classifies his acquaintances - and a third for his own freedmen and those of his guests. The man who sat next to me noticed this and asked me if I approved of it. I said no. "Then how do you arrange matters?" he asked. "I set the same before all," I answered, "for I invite my friends to dine not to grade them one above the other,  and those whom I have set at equal places at my board and on my couches I treat as equals in every respect."   "What! even the freedmen?" he said. "Yes," I replied, "for then I regard them as my guests at table, not as freedmen." He went on: "It must cost you a lot."   "Not at all," said I. "Then how do you manage it?"   "It's easily done; because my freedmen do not drink the same wine as I do, but I drink the same that they do." And, by Jove, the fact is that if you keep off gluttony it is not at all ruinously expensive to entertain a number of people to the fare you have yourself. It is this gluttony which is to be put down, to be reduced as it were to the ranks, if you wish to cut down expenses, and you will find it better to consult your own moderate living than to care about the nasty things people may say of you. What then is my point? Just this, that I don't want you, who are a young man of great promise, to be taken in by the extravagance with which some people load their tables under the guise of economy. Whenever such a concrete instance comes in my way it becomes the affection I bear you to warn you of what you ought to avoid by giving you an example. So remember that there is nothing you should eschew more than this new association of extravagance and meanness; they are abominable qualities when separated and single, and still more so when you get a combination of them.   Farewell.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Lucretius I, 271-289: storm and rain.

It is now the first of December, start of the meteorological winter, the season of storms. With vivid imagination Lucretius describes the power of the wind, which he – rightly – saw as a stream of small particles and the force of swollen rivers. This text is best read in the evening at the fireplace with a glass of wine or whiskey and the windows closed. Preferably when it storms outside and heavy rain is lashing the streets. Better don’t leave your house!

Lucretius, De Rerum Naturae I, 271-289.

Principio venti vis verberat incita pontum
ingentisque ruit navis et nubila differt,
interdum rapido percurrens turbine campos
arboribus magnis sternit montisque supremos
silvifragis vexat flabris: ita perfurit acri               275
cum fremitu saevitque minaci murmure pontus.
sunt igitur venti ni mirum corpora caeca,
quae mare, quae terras, quae denique nubila caeli
verrunt ac subito vexantia turbine raptant,
nec ratione fluunt alia stragemque propagant               280
et cum mollis aquae fertur natura repente
flumine abundanti, quam largis imbribus auget
montibus ex altis magnus decursus aquai
fragmina coniciens silvarum arbustaque tota,
nec validi possunt pontes venientis aquai               285
vim subitam tolerare: ita magno turbidus imbri
molibus incurrit validis cum viribus amnis,
dat sonitu magno stragem volvitque sub undis
grandia saxa, ruit qua quidquid fluctibus obstat.

vis viris (f.): power
verbero (-are): to beat, strike
pontus: sea (some editions have corpus instead of pontum, like the one used for the translation below)
ingens entis: huge, vast
ingentis navis: acc pl! (= ingentes naves)
ruo rui rutum : to cast down with violence
differo distuli dilatum: to disperse, scatter
interdum: meanwhile
turbo turbinis (m.): whirlwind
campus: open country
sterno stravi stratum: to spread, scatter (cf. street)
montis = montes
supremos montes: mountain tops
silvifragus: crushing trees
vexo (-are): to shake
flabra –orum (n.pl.): blasts, winds
perfuro (-ere): to rage furiously
acri cum fremitus = cum acri fremitus
fremitus –us: loud noise
saevio saevii saevitum: to be fierce, rage
minax minacis: menacing
murmur murmeris (n.): murmer, roar
ni mirum: no wonder
venti is nom. pl. in apposition with corpora caeca: unseen particles
verro (-ere): to sweep
rapto (-are): to snatch, seize
nec ratione alia: nor with another intent = in the same way
strages –is (f.): massacre, destruction
propago (-are): to spread (cf. propaganda)
mollis aquae natura: quietly flowing water (aquae natura is water in Lucr.)
fertur: turns into
repente: suddenly
imber imbris (m.): heavy rain
augeo auxi auctum: to increase
decursus –us (m.): downward stream
aquai: old spelling for aquae
fragmen fragminis (n.): broken piece, fragment
coniciens: piling on each other
arbustum: wood
validus: strong
venientis: attacking
sub-eo –ii –itum: to come under
turbidus: disturbed, wild
molibus: against the piles of a bridge
amnis –is (m.): river
qua quidquid: where anything
obsto obstiti (-are) + dat: to oppose,, hinder

Translation by William Ellery Leonard (1916)

The winds infuriate lash our face and frame,
Unseen, and swamp huge ships and rend the clouds,
Or, eddying wildly down, bestrew the plains
With mighty trees, or scour the mountain tops
With forest-crackling blasts. Thus on they rave
With uproar shrill and ominous moan. The winds,
'Tis clear, are sightless bodies sweeping through
The sea, the lands, the clouds along the sky,
Vexing and whirling and seizing all amain;
And forth they flow and pile destruction round,
Even as the water's soft and supple bulk
Becoming a river of abounding floods,
Which a wide downpour from the lofty hills
Swells with big showers, dashes headlong down
Fragments of woodland and whole branching trees;
Nor can the solid bridges bide the shock
As on the waters whelm: the turbulent stream,
Strong with a hundred rains, beats round the piers,
Crashes with havoc, and rolls beneath its waves
Down-toppled masonry and ponderous stone,
Hurling away whatever would oppose.