Monday, October 5, 2009

Aeli Vetusto : Ancient Stuff III:17

There's to be a party to honor Aelius (Lucius Lamia), of noble descent. But Eurus, a wind from the southeast, or so the old crow predicts, will bring cold rain tomorrow. So make a fire, roast the pig, and drink wine.

What Horace writes about is ancient stuff. He takes us to the past, to the edge of recorded civilization, and creates a world of divining crows, winds with names, a goddess who lives at the mouth of the River Liris and a people who can recite their genealogy back to heros.

Scholars look at this poem in two ways: a satire on Romans who want to polish their pedigree (sorta like some Americans hoping to find a connection to the Mayflower) or a serious poem about Horace's friend Aelius, who was once consul of Rome. 

I see the poem in a different way, especially here, writing from Honolulu.  I feel as though I am reading an ancient Hawaiian chant where ku‘auhau, genealogy, inoa makani, wind names, inoa akua, god names, and wanana, divination, play an important role. These things were important to Romans, too, who worshipped their ancestors and believed that a virtuous goal was to make one's name live a thousand years.  How different we are today in our fifteen-minutes-of-fame society! 

This poem has turned out to be a grammar lesson for me. There are a surprising number of neuter nouns in these few lines, most of which are in the guise of masculine nouns like genus, litus, nemus, opus, and genius. Neuter nouns are an oddity in Indo-European languages. More bi-sexual than neuter, they use both masculine and feminine endings, like the feminine -a in the plural, like the masculine -o in the dative singular. Neuter nouns have no special form for nominative and accusative. This sentence, out of context, would be ambiguous:

Animal videt.
The animal sees—or—He sees the animal

The peculiarities of neuter nouns occur in Greek, Sanskrit, Russian and once in English. We have only a few vestiges of this ancient tripartite system such as the word it and the word which. Ironically, all of the daughter languages of Latin, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, have lost even that: everything in the world is either masculine or feminine!

My prose rendition:

[O] Aeli, nobilis ab Lamo vetusto, 

quando ferunt—per memores fastus-—‹et priores hinc› ‹et omne genus nepotum› Lamias denominatos [esse], [tu] originem ab illo auctore ducis qui tyrannus, dicitur, princeps moenia Formiarum et Lirim ‹litoribus Maricae innantem› late tenuisse, 

cras tempestas ab Euro demissa nemus foliis multis et litus alga inutili sternet—nisi cornix annosa ‹augur aquae› fallit. Dum potes, lignum aridum compone. Cras Genium mero et porco bimenstri cum famulis ‹operum solutis› curabis. 
[revised March 28, 2015]  

nemus: humus sub arboribus
memores fastos: chronological lists of consuls 
princeps: primo 
innantem: inundantem
sternit: spargit
cornix: corvus
annosa: vetus
fallit: errat
genium: guardian spirit, cf. Hawaiian ‘aumakua
famulis: servus familiae

Āelī vetustō nōbilis ab Lamō,—
quandō et priōrēs hinc Lamiās ferunt
   dēnōminātōs et nepōtum
        per memorēs genus omne fastus,
auctōre ab illō dūcis ‹dūcit] orīginem,
quī Formiārum moenia dīcitur
   princeps et innantem Marīcae
        lītoribus tenuisse Līrim
lātē tyrannus:—crās foliīs nemus
multīs et algā lītus inūtilī
   dēmissa tempestās ab Eurō
        sternet, aquae nisi fallit augur
annōsa cornix. dum potes, āridum
compōne lignum; crās Genium merō
   cūrābis et porcō bimenstrī
        cum famulīs operum solūtīs.

:: 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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