Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vixi Puellis Nuper III:26

Yesterday I quoted two lines from Hafiz. They are not easy to translate. I wrote:
Let go of pride and airs. The days have seen
The Chinese robe of Caesar, the jaunty cap of shahs
While I may have translated the poet's intent, I did not translate the words. My friend Brandon Stone reminded me of a more literal meaning. He wrote:
Leave off pride and coquetry because the times have seen the folds of the cloak of Caesar and the corner of the crown of Kai . . . .
It turns out that "the folds of the cloak of Caesar" چین قبای قیصر and "the corner of the crown of Kai" طرف کلاه کی are not easy to translate. They both mean stylishly dressed.  "Fold" in Persian also means "China." What is more, "folds of the cloak" could also refer to the collar.   The "corner of the crown" was a fashionable bit of cloth that hung down at an angle. This made me think of the word "jaunty."  It is easy to see how tangled things can get very quickly.
To add to this confusion is the fact that Persians cannot agree on the meaning of these lines. Perhaps two much time has passed since Hafiz penned these words in the fourteenth century. Now no one really knows what he meant.
Certainly this is the case with today's poem form Horace, who lived thirteen centuries before Hafiz.  His ode, vixi puellis nuper, is short but one of its lines has troubled commentators for centuries.  Horace is talking about giving up love, probably because his "geisha" Chloe has ignored or scorned him. Horace declares he has had his triumphs, but now, it is time to lay his tools (the waxed rope-torches for lighting his way to his lover's house and the crowbars and axes he might use to break into the house of some reluctant prostitute) in the temple of Venus, just as a tradesman at the end of his life might offer his tools to his protective god.
The problem comes with the word "axes" secures. Some texts have "bows" arcus. How would Horace have used a bow? Was it a special tool? Was it Cupid's bow?  No one knows. Perhaps these words were like kaona, a wonderful Hawaiian literary term to describe words with double meanings, secret meanings, lewd meanings even.  It is not difficult to give Horace's funalia, vectis, and arcus other meanings just as we might understand "Horace's tool" in a different way.
Confusion, differing points of view are part and parcel of working with ancient poetry. The ensuing battles quicken the minds of scholars and drive them on and on and on. This is fine by me because sometimes you can get caught up in the finest of points.  What is not fine is the sloppiness I have discovered in the few weeks I have turned my attention to Horace. One book, Horace; Epodes and Odes, A New Annotated Latin Edition by Daniel H. Garrison (U. of Oklahoma Press) has been my rock. But I have found errors in the Latin text, errors which have made it difficult for me to understand what Horace was saying. The wrong ending to a word can change the grammar and the meaning. In the poem below is it minacis or minaces? Both mean "threatening", but minaces describes the tools Horace lays down in the temple, minacis describes the doors. The Loeb Classical Library out of Harvard has minaces. Other books have minacis. Who is right? What's a learner to do, especially if the editor doesn't alert the reader to these variations?  Or are they variations?  They could well be errors.
Latin is getting deader and deader, if you will permit me this Yogi-Berra-ism. Proofreaders of Latin are about as useful as those Iranian proofreaders who check over English sentences in Persian books or Japanese entrepreneurs who decorate their products with incomprehensible—and ridiculous—phrases in English.  To them, English is incomprehensible. To modern proofreaders so is Latin. Monumentum aere perennius?  Too bad, Horace, you were born way before Shelly and his little poem about Ozymandius.
Todays poem in prose:

Nuper, [ego] puellis idoneus vixi et non sine gloria militavi. 
Nunc hic paries, qui latus laevum Veneris marinae custodit, arma barbitonque, bello defunctum, habibit. 
Hic, hic, funalia lurida ponite et vectes securesque foribus oppositis minaces. 

O diva quae Cyprum beatam et Memphin nive Sithonia carentem tenes! [O] Regina, Chloen arrogantem flagello sublimi semel tange!  
[revised March 31, 2015]
nuper: recens
idoneus: robustus, validus
barbiton: lyram
foribus: portis
funalia: candeles
vectes: crowbars
secures: axes
oppositis: clausis
carentem: sine
Vixī puellīs nūper idōneus
et mīlitāvī nōn sine glōriā;
   nunc arma dēfunctumque bellō
        barbiton hīc pariēs habēbit,
laevum marīnae quī Veneris latus
custōdit. hīc, hīc pōnite lūrida [lūcida]
   fūnālia et vectēs secūrēsque [et arcūs]
        oppositīs fōribus minācēs.
ō quae beātum dīva tenēs Cyprum et
Memphin carentem Sīthoniā nive
   rēgīna, sublīmī flāgellō
        tangě Chloēn semel arrogantem.

English translation: 

:: 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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