Thursday, October 1, 2009

To a Pine III:22

Horace is at his villa in the hills outside Rome. He decides to dedicate the old pine tree hanging over his house to Diana, virgin goddess of the hills and forests, tri-formed goddess who hears the cries of laboring mothers. He kills a very young boar and with the blood consecrates the tree.

[A statue of tri-formed Hecate. In late Antiquity, Hecate and Diana joined attributes.]

Our connection to this poem hangs by a thread. There is almost nothing Horace says here that we in the twenty-first century can relate to. If there is meaning, it lies buried deep. Today Italian mothers turn to another virgin. Trees fall to gas-powered saws. Pigs die in automated slaughter houses, forgotten, unblessed. The thread, if it is not completely broken, is held by those few who stop their busy lives to give thanks for what they have, even a pinus imminens, an overhanging pine.

From a grammatical point of view, this short poem offers a good example of null-subjects, for Latin is, according to Devine and Stephens in their 2006 book Latin Word Order, a null-subject language.

This means that in Latin there is no need for a pronoun subject. Romans can say:

veni, vidi, vici,

but we can't.  We have to say:

I came. I saw. I conquered.

[English does have null-subject sentences. Imperatives are good examples, where the you-subject is understood. Another example is: Our Father who art in heaven. The pronoun 'thou' is missing—Our Father, and Thou art in heaven . . .]

Null-ness makes for economical poetry. Less is always more, but for the reader or the hearer, less is always more difficult to understand.

In today's poem, the first part desperately needs, to my English ears, a pronoun subject. To Roman ears, there was no need. The subject is tu 'thou.' It shows up in the verbal ending of audis 'thou hearest' and adimis 'thou rippest away.'

These verbal endings along with nominal declensions made it possible for Horace to place important words in important positions—at the end of stanzas, at the beginning or end of the line, just when a break comes in the meter. By tampering with normal word order, he could get the greatest possible effect.

In today's poem, it so happens that the two most important lines come at the end of the stanzas. The entire poem can be summarized by

diva triformis 'three-sides goddess'


sanguine donem 'by blood I shall give'

To Horace, the possible word-order combinations must have seemed limitless. What a fine medium the Latin language was in the hands of a genius! Like clay, it could be moulded into any shape.

Here is my prose rendition: 

Virgo, custos montium nemorumque, quae, ter vocata, [tu] puellas utero laborantes audis, letoque adimis. 
[O] diva triformis, tua esto pinus imminens villae, quam ego laetus per annos exactos sanguine ‹verris ictum obliquum meditantis› donem.
[revised March 28, 2015]

nemorum: silvarum, de laco Nemorensis in Lazio.
leto: morte
adimis: eripis, capis
annos exactos:  quotannis, in singulos annos
verris: porci
meditantis: exercentis, praeludentis

Montium custos nemorumque virgō,
quae labōrantıs uterō puellās
ter vocātā audis adimisque lētō,
   dīva triformis,
imminēns villae tua pīnus estō,
quam per exactōs ego laetus annōs
verris oblīquum meditantis ictum

   sanguine dōnem.


:: 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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