Fortune Bemoaned ["O Fortuna," Second Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Quick Notes
Fortuna’s Subtlety
Translating Poetry can be Torturous
Closing

{Another of Fortune’s wheels? Image found on Wikipedia.}

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Abstract

The speaker further builds on his complaint against Fortune.

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Translation

“Ah, Fortune, vast and void,
On your spinning wheel idle health ay turns to bad standing;
Both ever dissoluble, viewed but darkly,
Yet always to me seeming vainly lovely
As you bring your laughing, desecrating lash
To my naked back.”
(“O Fortuna”, 2nd stanza)

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Quick Notes

If you look at the translation offered on Wikipedia, and then at the one that I present here you’ll probably notice some differences. Once more, they’ve been made to keep the medieval flavor of the poem more or less intact.

Line 4 might be going a bit too far with its phrasing, but nothing was ever said about the poem’s original flavor being mild.

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Fortuna’s Subtlety

In fact, torture is clearly at play here. The wheel as a torture device was used in the middle ages, and the poem was written right in the middle of this period, sometime in the thirteenth century. But even then, there’re the final two lines of the stanza that explicitly mention a “laughing, desecrating lash” (ludum, ) that is brought to the speaker’s “naked back.”

There’s really no question that torture imagery is at play here. This might even be building on the subtle dominance of women peeked at in the first stanza of the poem.

Though they lacked prominence in places of power, their influence, however subtle and unseen in history books, cannot be overlooked. Even through to today, women who are villains (and even heroines) more often than not work their schemes through wit and wiles rather that brawn and brawling.

The binary stereotype that men are strong and women are smart (though usually not book smart) has persisted for a long time, and “O Fortuna” definitely looks like a medieval manifestation.

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Translating Poetry can be Torturous

Although it might be a unique variation, what does it mean for the sort of torture imagery here (variably the breaking wheel, and fortune’s laughingly lashing a person’s back or taking her “pleasure” (“ludum”) on a naked back (“dorsum nudum”))?

The Latin word used for “laughter” or “pleasure” is “ludum.” This word refers to things like laughter, play, jests, or just a generally fun, interactive time. So how does that relate to being whipped?

On the one hand it could be a bit of the repressed seeping through. In the middle ages those who could write and had the means to do so were trained by the Church. So, it could be that the whip is “laughing” as well as “desecrating” because it injures the body that god created while also relieving the pent up desires that that body has through taking on pain: a feeling as extreme as pleasure.

On the other hand, the above translation does take some license in coming out with “As you bring your laughing, desecrating lash/to my naked back.” The poem in Latin reads “…ludum dorsum nudum…,” all three of those words are together, but it’s not entirely clear what’s doing what.

If they all create a single direct object phrase (since they are in the accusative case), then any order could be used. “Laughing naked back,” “back laughing naked,” “naked back laughing.” Even if any of these are used, the element of fun remains in the act of torture.

The only real change in meaning that results from these variations is that the laughter’s moved from the whip to the speaker’s back: the gashes opened by the whip being likened to the open mouth of someone laughing.

In either case, this is definitely a poem that has more going on than another, more pious piece translated earlier.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday when Wiglaf views the hoard for the first time, helped by the luminescence of a battle standard.

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