Sunday, 17 May 2020

Alcuin: lament for a nightingale.

One of the foremost scholars during the Carolinian Renaissance was Alcuin of York (735 – 804), probably the greatest intellectual of his time.  Apart from his theological works, he has also left a number of poems, of which this poem about a nightingale (luscinia) is particularly charming. One can imagine Alcuin sitting in his monastic cell enjoying the song a nightingale and suddenly that uplifting voice during a period of distress has gone. Was it written after the Vikings had ransacked Lindisfarne in 793?  

Alcuin: De Luscinia (meter: elegiac couplet)

QUAE te dextra mihi rapuit, luscinia, ruscis,
illa meae fuerat invida laetitiae.
tu mea dulcisonis implesti pectora musis,
atque animum moestum carmine mellifluo.
qua propter veniant volucrum simul undique coetus
carmine te mecum plangere Pierio.
spreta colore tamen fueras non spreta canendo.
lata sub angusto gutture vox sonuit,
dulce melos iterans vario modulamine Musae,
atque creatorem semper in ore canens.
noctibus in furvis nusquam cessavit ab odis,
vox veneranda sacris, o decus atque decor,
quid mirum, cherubim, seraphim si voce tonantem
perpetua laudent, dum tua sic potuit?

quae dextra: which right (hand), or simply `which hand’
rapio rapui raptum (-ere): to take away, seize
ruscum: butcher'sbroom Ruscus aculeatus
invidus: envying, jealous making
dulcisonus: sweet-sounding
implesti = implevisti
moestus = maestus: sad
mellifluus: sweet-flowing
qua propter: for which reason
volucer volucris (f.): bird
undique: from all sides
coetus –us (m.): gathering
plango planxi planctum: (-ere) to bewail
pierius: belonging to mount Pieria (in Macedonia), where the Muses live
sperno sprevi spretum (-ere): to despise, contemn (the ablatives are ablatives of description)
latus: wide, extending (with vox)
sub angusto gutture: under the disguise of a narrow throat
melos (n.): song (Greek loanword occurring only in nom. and dat. sg.)
itero (-are); to repeat
modulameninis: melody
os oris (n.): mouth
furvus: dark, gloomy
nusquam: on no occasion, never
oda: song
sacer sacri/ae: holy, sacred (i.e. a voice to be revered by the saints)
decus (decoris) and decor (decoris) are the same: elegance, glory etc.
quid mirum: what wonder/ miracle
cherubim and seraphim are classes of archangels. The plural is Hebrew and these words are not declined.
tono (-are): resound
dum tua (vox) sic potuit: I.e. while your voice was able to praise with such a small throat

Translation by Helen Waddell


Written for his lost nightingale

WHOEVER stole you from that bush of broom,
I think he envied me my happiness,
O little nightingale, for many a time
You lightened my sad heart from its distress,
And flooded my whole soul with melody.
And I would have the other birds all come,
And sing along with me thy threnody.

So brown and dim that little body was.
But none could scorn thy singing. In that throat
That tiny throat, what depth of harmony,
And all night long ringing thy changing note.
What marvel if the cherubim in heaven
Continually do praise Him, when to thee,
O small and happy, such a grace was given?

Aberdeen bestiary: nightingale Verlichte Letters, Aberdeen, Natuurhistorie, Ei, Gedichten, Vreemde Dieren, Initiaal, Kleine Tekeningen

From the Aberdeen Bestiary folio 52 verso (13th century)

Friday, 15 May 2020

Legenda Aurea: Saint Andrew and the seven demons.

The Legenda Aurea written by Jacobus de Voragine (1228-1298) was to some extent the 1001 Nights of Mediaeval Europe: all kinds of stories and anecdotes in some thousand pages. Its content though was not just amusement but also, or even more, exempla of miracle and devotion for the Christian laity.
Believe in demons was part of everyday Christianity and it must have been a reassuring thought that these could be driven away, as Saint Andrew does in this excerpt. From a modern perspective it has a strange ending: why would the apostle revive the son on the condition that he, the son, would follow the holy man? Such ethical considerations would not have bothered the audience, glad as they were to hear a miracle.
Legenda Aurea De sancto Andrea apostolo  (fragment).

Cum autem esset apostolus in civitate Nicaea, dixerunt ei cives, quod extra civitatem secus viam septem daemones erant, qui praetereuntes homines occidebant. Quibus ad iussum apostoli ante populum in specie canum venientibus praecepit, ut illuc irent, ubi nulli hominum nocere possent. Qui statim evanuerunt. Illi autem homines hoc viso fidem Christi receperunt. Et cum venisset ad portam alterius civitatis, ecce quidam iuvenis mortuus ferebatur. Quaerente apostolo, quid ei accidisset, dictum est ei, quod septem canes venerunt et eum in cubiculo necaverunt. Et lacrimans apostolus ait: "Scio, Domine, quod fuerunt daemones, quos a Nicaea urbe repuli." Dixitque patri: "Quid dabis mihi, si suscitavero filium tuum" Cui ille: "Nil carius ego possidebam, ipsum ergo tibi dabo." Et facta oratione surrexit et apostolo adhaesit.

secus (+ acc.): beside, along
praeter-eo: to pass by
occido occidi occisum (-ere): to kill
quibus…venientibus is an abl abs. with the words in between depending on it
in specie: in disguise of, disguised as
praecipio praecepi praeceptum (-ere): to order, command (subject: Andreas)
illuc: there, thither
noceo nocui (-ēre)
statim: immediately
evanesco evanui (-ere): to vanish
hoc viso: abl. abs.
ferebatur: was carried to a grave
quaero quaesivi quaesitum: to ask
cubiculum: bedroom
neco (-are): to kill
quod: that         
repello repuli repulsum: (-ere): to drive away repel
suscito (-are): to raise up, revive
carius: more dear
ipsum: his son
oratioonis (f.): prayer
adhaereo adhaesi adhaesum: to stick, adhere, follow

The translation is adapted from William Caxton’s Middle English edition.

(After this,) as the apostle was in the city of Nice, the citizens said to him that there were seven devils without the city, by the highway, which slew all them that passed forthby. And the apostle Andrew commanded them to come to him, which came in the likeness of dogs, and sith he commanded them that they should go whereas they should not grieve ne do harm to any man; and anon they vanished away. And when the people saw this they received the faith of Jesu Christ. And when the apostle came to the gate of another city there was brought out a young man dead. The apostle demanded what was befallen him, and it was told him that seven dogs came and strangled him. Then the apostle wept and said: O Lord God, I know well that these were the devils that I put out of Nice; and after said to the father of him that was dead: What wilt thou give to me if I raise him? And he said: I have nothing so dear as him, I shall give him to thee. And anon the apostle made his prayers unto almighty God, and raised him from death to life, and he went and followed him.