Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Danger! Non Vides Quanto III:20

Now a love triangle. Pyrrhus and an unnamed woman vie for the love of a lad named Nearchus. Horace tries to warn Pyrrhus not to stir up the "lioness." Heedless, Pyrrhus readies his arrows. The lioness sharpens her teeth. Meanwhile Nearchus, perfumed of hair, like some beautiful Nereus of Homer's epic—or like Ganymede—pays no never mind.

This poem has given me a seismic jolt. Not what it says. There is humor and naughtiness and interesting references to Greek literature. No, the jolt comes from two little phrases:

obstantis iuventum catervas 
protective troops of boys

celeris sagittas 
swift arrows

According to the Latin grammar I have in my head, obstantis should be obstantes to agree with catervas. Celeris should be celeres for the same reason. This is the same problem I had with minacis/minaces (See: September 10th blog "Clement Lawrence Smith et Prudentia."

I start flipping through some grammar books. I notice the declension of words like urbs (city). Beside the accusative plural urbes, I see, in parentheses, urbis. I feel another jolt. The Latin grammar building in my head is swaying violently.

Turns out words like urbs belong to a class known as i-stems. Some i-stems have a variant form in the accusative plural. The grammar books make it sound like the two accusative plurals were equal, but I doubt they were. Problably urbis, being an older form, sounded more stately and more poetic than urbes.  Certainly the two forms were not equal as far as meter was concerned.  The -is ending is short; -es is long. 

I suppose to those more adept at scanning Latin poetry than I, this might not make any difference at all. The adept know that there are other rules at play that can change short syllables into long ones. There is the anceps rule: syllables at the end of lines can be either long or short. There is also the long-by-position rule, which explains what happens when two consonants come together. Slam bonus 'good' against puer 'boy' and the normally short u in bonus becomes:

bonuuuuuuus puer

The same thing happens when urbis meets a word like Graecorum:

uuuuurbiiiis Graaaaaeeeecoooorum

This i-stem thing is a complicated feature not just of Latin declensions but Indo-European declensions in general. Besides i-stems, there are a-stems, u-stems, etc., etc.  English once had declensions and all kinds of stem variations. The pairs man/men, foot/feet are a hold over from this same complicated system that goes way back. Some say that these stem variations were responsible for the rise of gender in Indo-European languages. No one really knows for sure. We're talking more than six thousand years ago—long before written records, long before freezing Indo-Europeans living on the Russian steppes even thought of writing. Verba volant scripta manent, as the literate Romans used to say, 'words fly, writing remains.'  I'd have to agree, but add non sine variationibus, non sine erroribus.

[By the way, it has been rather difficult to find a good English translation of this risqué-to-some-ears bit of poetry.]

Today's poem in prose:

[O] Pyrrhe, non vides quanto periclo catulos leaenae Gaetulae moveas? Paulo post [tu] raptor inaudax proelia dura fugies, cum [illa] per catervas obstantes iuvenum, Nearchum insignem repetens, ibit. Certamen grande [est] praeda tibi maior an illi cedat.
Interim, dum tu sagittas celeres promis [et] haec dentes timendos acuit, arbiter pugnae—qualis aut Nireus aut raptus ab Ida aquosa—fertur, palmam sub pede nudo posuisse et vento leni umerum ‹capillis odoratis sparsum› recreare.  [revised March 28, 2015]

Pyrrhe: similis Pyrrho, filio Achillis
catulos leaenae: cubs of the lioness
Gaetulae: terra in Africa extra imperio Romanorum
moveas:  perturbas
insignem: nobilem
praeda: praemium
palmam: palmam victoriae
qualis: similis
Nireus: heros pulcherrimus Graecorum
raptus ab Ida aquosa: Ganymedes, princeps Troiae, qui ab monte humido Ida raptus est.

Nōn vidēs quantō moveās perīclō,
Pyrrhe, Gaetūlae catulōs leaenae?
dūra post paulō fugiēs inaudax
   proelia raptor,
cum per obstantıs iuvenum catervās
ībit insignem repetēns Nearchum:
grande certāmen tibi praeda cēdat
   māior, an illī.
interim, dum tū celerıs sagittās
prōmis, haec dentēs acuit timendōs,
arbiter pugnae posǔisse nūdō
   sub pede palmam
fertur et lēnī recreāre ventō
sparsum odōrātīs umerum capillīs,
quālis aut Nīrēus fǔit aut aquōsā

   raptus ab īdā.

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

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