One Stanza, Three Ways ["Dum Diane vitrea" Sixth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A full First Clause
The Conceivable
In Satiable Terms
Closing

{Some fifteenth century imaginings of a child in a womb. Image found on the British Library’s Learning: Medieval Realms website.}

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Abstract

Appetites are sated, so sleepiness and the desire for more clash.

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Translation

“The deadly fume evaporates from the womb,
As its three little rooms are bedewed;
These lovers eyes and eyelids are then filled
With the fog of sleepiness,
Yet vision veers not away.
Whence through the eyes are we bound
By animal power, as they are the will’s &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsphelpers.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 6)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been translated and posted.

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A full First Clause

First and foremost here, I need to make a quick mention that “womb,” as far as I know, was used much more generally in the medieval world than it is in the modern one. Of course, there was the sense that it meant the female part that holds a foetus, but it also, as far as I can tell from my own reading and knowledge, meant the stomach as a fillable space much more generally. Thus, though the first clause retains its weirdness all the same, it at least isn’t necessarily about pregnancy or conception or anything like that. Necessarily.

But, poetic license aside, there are really only three things possible with this first clause: It’s about conceiving a child (since “the three little rooms are bedewed”), about having an appetite sated, or about the two lovers being a little flatulent.

Although fart jokes are a staple of medieval bawdy comedy (just as they are today), since this is a love poem (and as far as I know Abelard wasn’t into that sort of thing), that last possibility can be instantly ruled out.

That leaves conception and the sating of an appetite.

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The Conceivable

In terms of conception, the medieval understanding of human reproduction wasn’t as advanced as ours is today, but it wasn’t as backwards as might be expected.

In the early medieval period the prevailing idea was that both a man and a woman had to expel seed while copulating for a child to be conceived. In other words, both partners had to orgasm, and these orgasms had to be more or less synchronized.

However, after Europe’s rediscovery of Aristotle between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Galen’s two-seed idea was tossed out in favour of the Aristotlean notion that only a man’s seed mattered and a woman just had to lay back and think of beautiful/strong/pleasing things. I’m simplifying here, but that’s just because I don’t want to distract from the poem at hand.

Speaking of which, if we carry the notion that the first two lines are about conception forward, then the couple described in the rest of the stanza becomes a tightly married one. After all, the remainder of the first sentence says, ‘then they both felt tired, but they kept gazing at each other.’

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In Satiable Terms

On the other hand, if we take the notion that the opening is about our lovers’ sexual appetites being sated, then we come out with something a little more subversive: the idea that the sex act described in the rest of the poem isn’t enjoyed by some miscreant lusty couple, but by a deeply loving one – though we’re given no real suggestion about whether they’re married or not. Once more, if we go with the appetite interpretation, we come out with a theme similar to the one seen last week: sex is natural, and just what happens between consenting, loving adults.

However, these two interpretations don’t need to be kept apart like two cats in heat. No. They can be crossed over to create an even more revealing interpretation.

For the very fact that these two interpretations are possible suggests that the poet, as long as he was aware of the themes his work was evoking, or bound to evoke, meant this poem to assert that sex between a loving married couple is the same as sex between a loving un-married couple. Definitely a controversial thought, and certainly something Abelard could use to argue the case for his affair with Eloise.

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Closing

Come back on Thursday for the remainder of Wiglaf’s rant against the cowardly thanes (click here for part one).

And, if you find anything amiss in today’s entry let me know. The same goes for anything you might want to add.

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Wiglaf looks back in Anger [ll.2864-2876] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Venting Frustrations
Invocations as Self-Summonings
Closing

{What Wiglaf may’ve looked like, with sword drawn and shield ready – here, as in his speech, his own spirit is his armour. Image found on The Wall Machine.}

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Abstract

Wiglaf lays into the thanes, but calms when he speaks more specifically of Beowulf.

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Translation

“‘Lo! That it may be said, by he who will speak truth,
that the liege lord, he who gave you that treasure,
that military gear, that you there stand in,
when he at ale-bench oft gave
to sitters in the hall helms and byrnies,
the prince over his retainers, the strongest that he could
find either far or near, all that he may
as well have furiously tossed away, that war gear
that he from battle won.
Not at all did that folk-king have cause to boast
of comrades in arms; yet god allowed him, the
victorious ruler, so that he himself could drive forward
with his sword alone, when he had need for courage.'”
(Beowulf ll.2864-2876)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Venting Frustrations

The first thing that you most likely noted when reading this week’s translation is that the first sentence is both long and syntactically awkward.

In an effort to keep the dialogue as accurate as possible, I tried to keep this opening in the same order in which it appeared in my version of the original text. What this opening sentence boils down to is the idea that Beowulf wasted his generous gifts on the thanes that ran away.

But the way in which Wiglaf expresses this, with a series of subordinate clauses, underscores his anger. However, it’s not necessarily that he’s shouting these lines, he could just as easily be letting the words slide from between clenched teeth as he stands over Beowulf’s body.

Using such a tangle of words makes Wiglaf’s anger clear not only in that it gives his words the sense that they’re tumbling out in a torrent of emotion, but also because it’s a way to verbally represent the clashing emotions that Wiglaf feels in the moment. After all, he currently stands close to the dear lord he has just lost while those whom he considers little better than social leeches are crowding near.

Since the following sentences see Wiglaf delve more into Beowulf and move away from directly addressing the thanes, they become much clearer.

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Invocations as Self-Summonings

Nonetheless, his rage is not lost as Wiglaf moves on to talk of Beowulf. Although we have nothing more than words on a page to run with, it’s not difficult to imagine any scop worth his salt giving a slightly sarcastic ring to “Not at all did that folk-king have cause/To boast of comrades in arms” (“Nealles folccyning fyrdgesteallum/gylpan þorfte” ll.2873-74). And, just as with anyone speaking from the heart, or while in a passion, Wiglaf says some curious things in this last sentence of this week’s excerpt.

The reference to god may seem old hat by now, but what’s curious about it is the immediate shift from it to what Beowulf could pull from himself because of his recourse to god.

On the one hand Wiglaf is saying, god helped him when you guys didn’t, but on the other he’s also saying that god helped him to see what he had all along and to use it when he found himself in his great need.

Although as faint as sections of the Noel codex itself (the manuscript in which Beowulf was found), there’s a slight mysticism that can be found in these words of Wiglaf’s, as he seems to be expressing the idea that a person’s true self can be found only in god and that this true self can help them to accomplish supernatural deeds.

In turn Wiglaf’s implication suggests that the thanes are not just cowards, but also ungodly – a curious thing of which to accuse warriors, but it must be remembered that if nothing else, Beowulf always made reference to god in his stories of his own feats, and though the only feat of Wiglaf’s that we know of is his helping with the dragon, it seems that he is now doing the same.

However, as we’ll see next week, Wiglaf’s emphasis on himself may foreshadow more than his valiant leadership of the Geats.

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Closing

Tomorrow, at A Glass Darkly be sure to read all about the good and the bad in the b-horror movie The Convent as the fourth and final part of my Shocktober set of movie reviews!

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On the "dealings of Venus" ["Dum Diane vitrea" Fifth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Flick of the Tongue
From the Other Side of the Bed
A Lament for Love
Closing

{A modern take on an ancient goddess of an ancient emotion. Image found on tribe.net.}

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Abstract

In the name of Venus, post-coital sleepiness is described.

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Translation

“After the smooth-tongued dealings of Venus
fatigue the mind’s wealth.
This wonderful new mist swims
and settles in the eyelids.
Oh, how favourable the shift from love to slumber,
Yet how a kiss gives new rise to love!”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 5)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been translated and posted.

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A Flick of the Tongue

The word “blanda” can translate as things like “charming” or “flattering,” but given the fact that this poem is essentially about sex I could hardly resist going with “smooth-tongued.” For, so often are the dealings of Venus done with a smooth tongue, or those dealings make a tongue to be smooth.

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From the Other Side of the Bed

At any rate, this section of the poem seems at first like it could be the last. However, there’s a suggestion that, despite the onset of sleep, the desire for love continues to burn in the speaker and possibly in his partner as well.

What’s curious about this stanza, though, is that it repeats the previous verse’s theme to some extent. Where last week, we delved into the three images that were used for post-coital sleepiness, they were associated with their own mythological figure: Morpheus – a Greek god.

On the other hand, this week we have the Roman version of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. So is it possible that these two stanzas are working on a kind of call and answer basis? Or did last week’s give the male’s sense of sleepiness after sex while this week’s gives the female’s? It’s hard to tell without looking forward to next week’s, but there’s one more thing to look at before we close for this week.

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A Lament for Love

The final couplet of this week’s stanza begins with the same words as verse three (“quam felix,” “how favourable”).

Given that stanza three is one in praise of sex, and that this week’s stanza refers specifically to an antique deity in charge of sex and matters of the heart, what can be said about these two stanzas?

The closing image of stanza three is of sore open eyes being joys of love, and here the final image is that of the love-generating kiss.

So are there the seeds of a love lament in here, since we’re being pointed toward a comparison of the propagation of love with love’s seeing and revelling in things that could be considered worn out? Or is this final line just a confirmation that when things wear out it’s love that perpetuates our need for them?

At the very least, this subtle hint towards a comparison of these two things suggests some hesitancy about love on the speaker’s part, lending some credence to the idea that the infamous Abelard wrote this poem.

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Closing

Come Thursday we’ll hear and look into Wiglaf’s opening words to the cowardly thanes. Watch for it!

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On God and Wiglaf’s Re-Naming [ll.2852b-2863] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Invocations
Wiglaf Smoulders
Closing

{The Anglo-Saxon god Tiw, deity of war and warriors – is he what Anglo-Saxons would visualize when the poet/scribe refers to god/the Ruler/the Measurer? Image found on weartheenglish.com.}

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Abstract

Wiglaf’s grief continues, and he turns his anger toward the cowardly thanes.

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Translation

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp”He sat exhausted,
the warrior on foot near his lord’s shoulder;
tried to revive him with water – not at all did that speed him.
He might not on earth make that chieftan keep his life,
though he wished well to,
nor could he at all change the decree of the Ruler;
God’s decree would rule over the deeds
of each man, as he now yet does.
Then from that young warrior a grim answer
was easy to obtain for those who earlier had lost their courage.
Wiglaf spoke, Weohstan’s son,
the man sad at heart – he saw them as not dear:”
(Beowulf ll.2852b-2863)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Invocations

The reference to god on lines 2857-2859 lends Beowulf’s death finality. Every other reference to god has been at a set points, nodes even, of the story.

When Beowulf defeats Grendel he thanks god for the victory, when he comes back from the mire, he thanks god again. References to god and fate like this one seem to be the pillars that hold Beowulf on high. But then, what are they holding it up for? If the poem’s like a woven piece of Anglo-Saxon sculpture or jewelry, then what is the purpose of having anchor points? I suppose, because they’re references to cosmic forces, and are references to things that would hold the swirling designs of the universe in place. God’s referenced at the points in the story that emphasize order where things are otherwise going wrong.

A king’s hall being assaulted by a monster, a terrible she-beast wreaking havoc, a kingdom in turmoil, a dragon ravaging the land. Like any good fantasy story, this isn’t about a bunch of men talking about the latest tourney that went off without a hitch, or a bunch of ladies in waiting discussing what to bring their lady from the kitchen. This is a tale of action and adventure, particularly that of a young man who proves his worth and grows into greatness. References to god at key moments accentuate those moments and subtly nudge Christianity, or at the least the conception of there being just one god, into early audiences’ minds.

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Wiglaf Smoulders

After this reference to god, we then move onto the epilogue. And with the return of Wiglaf’s name, and therefore, I argue, his agency, we swing back into his perspective.

Wiglaf’s frustrated with the thanes who ran since all of them working together could have very well slain the dragon without losing Beowulf. He’s also frustrated because of the immensity of the responsibility that he’s been saddled with (Beowulf having made him his successor). The whole trouble of dealing with a people who are very obviously not ready to defend themselves as valiantly as they had in the past is also now a worry of Wiglaf’s.

So it’s fair to say that Wiglaf is feeling quite overwhelmed by the task ahead of him now. He’s also moving into the anger stage of his grieving, lashing out at those whom he can easily pin the blame on. And rightfully so within Anglo-Saxon culture – but we won’t see just how direly he lays into them until next week.

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Closing

In the meantime, check out A Glass Darkly tomorrow for a tip-toeing into the 2011 horror flick Silent House for Part Three of Shocktober. And come next week, watch for the Sixth stanza of “Dum Diane vitrea” and Wiglaf’s words to the cowardly thanes.

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Natural Exhaustion ["Dum Diane vitrea" Fourth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Teasing Meaning from Images
It’s all about Sleep
Closing

{An idyllic windmill scene. Image found on JA Tappero’s Main Page.}

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Abstract

The poet waxes on about satisfying (?) post-coital sleepiness.

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Translation

“Morpheus then draws forth
an urge in the mind
Like gentle wind over mature corn,
clear shoreside river murmurings,
the circuitous orbit of mill arms,
he who steals sleep from clear eyes.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 4)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been posted. This recording will then be posted with a final, full edition of my translation.

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Teasing Meaning from Images

What this stanza describes sounds unequivocally like post-coital sleepiness. The way it’s described with rustic, idyllic even, similes strengthens this reading, too.

After all, If love is often romanticized in classical literature as the affection between a shepherd and a shepherdess, why not also romanticize the urge to sleep afterwards with a bunch of natural imagery? Though it definitely needs to be noted that this stanza’s imagery isn’t entirely natural.

Corn may grow on its own, but it’s made into fields by human hands, just as much as a windmill is something of human design and construction. Yet, associating these things with sleep makes sense on many different levels.

There’s the obvious level of their soothing nature, and that of all three working together to paint a very calm and relaxed scene. And relaxed is the best word for this scene, since all of these actions are passive. The corn merely bends in the wind, the water is just running to lower ground, and the mill’s arms turn as gusts go by.

Further, the first and third of these images are visual cues of something invisible but audible: wind, while the second of the three is an aural representation of something very visual. This synaesthetic description of the sweeping desire to sleep is incredibly effective if you think about the last time you felt utterly exhausted. Alternatively, you could compare this stanza’s main image to the gradual release of tension in a yogic meditation or that you might experience if you just lay in bed, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing.

But why, if the poet wanted to depict an idyllic country scene, did he use these three things? Why does the poet choose the wind in a cornfield, the babbling of a river, and the wind through the arms of a windmill? These are all things found in the countryside, sure. But why these three? How do they work together? And why move from wind to water to wind?

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It’s all about Sleep

It’s possible that this arrangement offers further reflection on the medieval biphasic sleep pattern.

The wind could be the gentle and effortless rest that sleep affords, while the water, coming in between wind images, could be the awake phase in between sleep periods (or sex itself, depending on how far you want to take the flow of the river).

What’s more, shifting the wind image to that of a mill after that middle water image works perfectly well within an interpretation of this stanza as the medieval sleep pattern in miniature. After all, a windmill would often be used to grind grains (corn included) into meal or flour, and medieval associations between this flour and male potency (or more generally the active principle) are many.

So reading these three images as a representation of the night as a whole is certainly possible within context. What’s especially significant about such a reading though is that it shows the poet’s associating this sleep pattern with human use of nature, and the way that nature and humanity interact. On the surface, this kind of idea sounds tame enough, but through such a series of associations, the poet could well be asserting that sex is merely something natural.

Maybe the poet is even trying to go so far as to bring sex, something contemporarily thought of as dangerous and needing control (a natural, base urge), into the more civilized and human realm. Moreover, because of the cyclical nature of this series of images, the poet seems to suggest that sex is just another part of a natural cycle that can be put under human control, or under human use (as water and its flow can be).

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Closing

Of course, all of this is speculation – go right ahead and share your own in the comments!

Also, don’t miss Thursday’s Beowulf entry – Beowulf is firmly cut from the story, as its focus moves over to the grieving Wiglaf.

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The Fallen Hero and the Fleeing Thanes [ll.2836-2852a] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Reflection amidst Grief
Joining the Two
The Battle-Leaving
Closing

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Abstract

Today’s excerpt is very clearly in two parts. In the first we see the wrapping up of explicit mourning for Beowulf, and in the second the return of the cowardly thanes who fled when the dragon grew fierce.

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Translation

“Indeed few mighty men on earth
have so succeeded, as I have heard,
though every deed they did was daring,
few of them would make a rush against the breath of the
fierce ravager or could disturb a hall of rings by hand,
if he discovered the ward awakened
dwelling in the barrow. Beowulf had paid
for his share of the noble treasures with his death;
each had reached the end of
their loaned lives. It was not long then
before the laggards in battle left the wood,
ten cowardly traitors together,
those that dared not fight by the spear when
their liege lord was in greatest need;
but they were ashamed when they came bearing shields,
dressed in war garments to where their lord lay;
they gazed on Wiglaf. “
(Beowulf ll.2836-2852a)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Reflection amidst Grief

The first half of this excerpt clearly expresses closure for Wiglaf, whether directly or indirectly.

Where the earlier meditation on the dragon might seem more like the poet/scribe’s own musing on death, it’s much easier to relate these lines about Beowulf’s sacrifice and his grand deeds to Wiglaf’s own thoughts. Yet, at the same time, having had a hand in defeating the dragon, it’s fair to say that Wiglaf may also have marvelled at the dragon’s corpse.

In fact, it could well be that Wiglaf first had to marvel at the corpse in order to really register the magnitude of Beowulf’s deed. And, as one of the poem’s audience proxies (since the warriors in the audience – of any skill level – could probably relate to Wiglaf’s facing a major, brand new challenge), it’s fair to say that he may have been so shocked by Beowulf’s death that it takes the meditation on the dragon to make him realize that its corpse was his and Beowulf’s doing.

Victory seemed impossible, but together they achieved it – though they can never be together again.

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Joining the Two

What’s interesting about the way the poet/scribe transitions between the meditation on Beowulf and the thanes’ return is that he uses a statement involving both parties. It’s not that Beowulf had reached the end of his loaned days, nor that the dragon did, but that both did. In death all things are just creations of the god that the poet/scribe may have been trying to tell his audience about.

Or, all things are ultimately and equally the toys of fate, depending on a person’s outlook. The fact that both the dragon and Beowulf reached the end of their loaned days, though, points to a deeper connection than anything implied by a mere whim like that so often associated with fate or wyrd.

After the transition to the thanes’ return we aren’t given much in the way of juicy material. They wend their way back to see the aftermath of the fight, and we’re not given any solid reason why aside from implications of feeling guilty and ashamed. However, what the poet/scribe chooses to point out in his description of the thanes is very telling.

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The Battle-Leaving

After describing them as cowards they’re described as “ashamed when they came bearing shields,/dressed in war garments.” This fits in nicely with the idea of hypocrisy, and may also touch on a distrust of any consciously known dissonance in a person’s appearance.

It’s important for the poet/scribe to mention this here because it underlines a concern with a mismatch of appearance and essence. The thanes that fled are ashamed to be wearing the garb that marks them as warriors since these things were to help them become warriors but their own essences weren’t up to the task.

Further, since the majority of the thanes fled it’s implied that the old ways have failed the Geats. As a result of this, they’ve all gone soft in the face of new challenges, save for one. And, after nearly 100 lines of being without it, he is outfitted once more with his proper name: Wiglaf.

Renaming Wiglaf at this point may seem strange, but I think that it’s a positive example of the exterior matching the interior.

As mentioned in a previous entry, his name literally means battle-leaving or battle-heirloom. Since Wiglaf is the one left after the battle with the dragon, it seems almost as though he has fulfilled his name. Since he is indeed now a battle-leaving, he has achieved its proper meaning and is now a figure of authority that not just the thanes, but that the rest of the Geats will look to for guidance.

Unlike the cowardly thanes who are ashamed of the dissonance between their equipment and their conduct, through his courage Wiglaf has transcended into a perfect alignment between his name and his being which leads to his becoming as major a figure as Beowulf was, though his part of the story is much shorter.

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Closing

All the same, check back next week for the continuation of that story on Thursday as Wiglaf lays into the thanes. Also, don’t miss verse four of “Dum Diane vitrea,” which will be posted come next Tuesday.

A little more immediately, go over to A Glass Darkly tomorrow for Part Two of Shocktober: a look at Leprechaun in the Hood

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Moon Fruit ["Dum Diane vitrea" Third Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Fruitful Opening
That Spontaneous Spark
Closing

{Handle it, but don’t hold it, the poem counsels. Image found on a blog called Imprint.}

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Abstract

Some of the virtues of sex are indirectly extolled.

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Translation

“Oh how fruitful is that remedy of drowsiness,
Which tempestuous cares and sorrows sedates!
So long as it steals up to sore open eyes,
themselves a sweet joy of love to have.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 3)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been posted.

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A Fruitful Opening

The opening pun of this week’s stanza is, thankfully, something that works in both languages.

“Felix” may not unerringly translate into “fruitful” but it’s one of many possibilities, just as one could say that there are many English synomnyms for “fruitful.” In any case, this is about as subtle as it gets, since the rest of the poem is just a celebration of sex.

Turning back to the pun in line one, though, it’s possible that the play on the word fruitful/felix, could be a reference to the fertility rate of having sex during this waking interval.

But even something like the Domesday book didn’t keep records of when children that women managed to carry to term were conceived down to the hour, so the potency of the hours between midnight and second sleep isn’t really something we can check.

It’s possible, though, that since the two hour window of wakefuless would be the best time for sex from a social/scheduling point of view (one of the few times you wouldn’t be toiling away at your daily labour, eating, or, well, sleeping), that this is billed as the ideal time.

After all, it’s not like that was the only time that medieval people knocked boots. Any time at which they could gain a private moment they’d do it, just as we do. There’s no particular evidence that I can cite for that, but it’s definitely something that just stands to reason.

With that sort of sexual freedom from a temporal standpoint, it makes sense that an authority like the Church would try to suggest an ideal time for sex.

It’s a cold view of what is through-and-through a love poem, but since the “Dum Diane vitrea” was written in Latin, and Latin was the language of the Church and the educated (who were educated by the Church), it’s not outside of the realms of the probable that this poem is a propaganda piece aiming to keep sex in (or move it to) a set time.

This interpretation of stanza three is also supported by the idea that Abelard may have written the whole of the “Dum Diane vitrea.” Having been a victim of wild passions with his student, Eloise, and winding up castrated for his pleasures, he’d be the perfect person to get to sit down and write a stirring love song about how sex should be kept in the appropriate place. Make that appropriateness cosmic, and you’ve got a powerhouse on your hands.

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That Spontaneous Spark

Once we get to line three, things heat up a bit further.

At this part of the stanza we get the conditional “So long as” (“Dum”). So, though the exclamation effectively closes the statement that covers lines one and two, we also have to consider sex something that sneaks up on a person.

In other words, it can’t be a cold duty between a married couple (assuming that those are the people the poem addresses), but rather something spontaneous.

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Closing

Check back here on Thursday for the rest of Wiglaf’s mourning, and the return of the cowardly thanes!

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