Naming the Things that Move [Etymologiae 12: 1-3] (Latin)

A First Impression
Translation
All About Isidore
An Opening and a Word
Latin Animals
Barbaric?
Closing

{St. Isidore at study. Image from mythfolklore.net.}

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First Impression

St. Isidore of Seville did not exactly organize his Etymologiae as I had expected. Rather than going animal by animal and offering a catalogue of facts, he instead set it out by category. That means that for the next few months I’ll be working through his explanation of “Herd Animals and Beasts of Burden” (“De Pecoribus et Iumentis”).

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Translation

Now, my translation. This is twice removed from the original text, since, it being prose rather than poetry, what’s below is a revision of my (somewhat liberal) literal translation.

“I. The Herd Animals and Beasts of Burden
[1] “Adam first imparted names on all of the animals, calling each by name from its present state and alike to the condition in which it naturally served.
[2] “But Gentiles also gave to each animal names from their own languages. But it was not from the Latin nor from the Greek nor from any of the barbarous tongues, rather man imparted those names in that language which was used by all before the flood, which is called Hebrew.
[3] “In Latin these are called animals or living things, which are animated by life and moved by [the?] spirit.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:1-3)

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All About Isidore

But before I get into the first three verses of this book, a few words about St. Isidore, patron saint of the internet (according to Wikipedia), himself.

He was born sometime in the latter half of the sixth century and died in 636 AD. Not much is known of his ear;y life, but his parents died while he was still young and so he was raised by his older brother, Leander, who had been prepared for a life in the Church. Leander followed this path to the bishopric of Seville and Isidore did the same, succeeding his brother as bishop around 600 AD. Isidore is famed for his writing, which covers a variety of topics ranging from the theological to the physical.

If you want more information on Isidore, check out the Catholic Online and the Catholic Encyclopedia entries on him – but keep in mind these sites’ biases.

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An Opening and a Word

Isidore begins book 12 of his Etymologiae with an explanation of how creatures were named. Of special interest here is the word “indidit” from “indere,” meaning, in particular, to “impart, impose.”

This word constitutes a translational fork.

On the one hand, Adam, or the more sweeping “man” imparted names to the animals, it was a benign act of giving of him/itself.

On the other, those names were imposed, meaning that there was a degree of coercion or force involved. Humanity either gave the names freely or stamped them onto the animals, branding them all with words that forever represent each animal.

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Latin Animals

And finally, things get rolling in verse three. Here the Latin words for animal and their meaning is given.

Quite straightforwardly.

So much so, in fact, that the original Latin is gloriously alliterative: “Latine autem animalia sive animantia dicta.”

I do wonder, though, if “spiritu” is the capital ‘s’ Spirit, or just a spirit or even just spirit. The redundancy in the original Latin offers a small clue.

Since “spiritu” is paired with “vita,” which just means life, the most general meaning of “spiritu” seems like the best choice. So it must be “spirit,” as in “school spirit,” or in the sense of morale. The implication of using “spirit” is neat, too – that things are animated by a sense of purpose or basic drive.

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Barbaric?

Also curious is that Latin and Greek are practically counted amongst the barbarous tongues.

Latin was paramount in medieval education, and Greek, though lesser known during much of the middle ages, also held a fair amount of prestige. Placing them in in such close proximity with “barbarous tongues” that don’t even get named definitely sets Hebrew up as something special.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday for the continuing image of the mourning old man in Beowulf. And if you’ve got a preference for which “spirit” to go with or whether “indidit” should be translated as “impose” or “impart” let me know in a comment.

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Quoth the Beowulf [ll.2441-2449] (Old English)

Abstract
The Passage in Brief
Ravens and Ruin?
The Passage’s Words and a Modernization
Beowulf and the Raven
The Raven As Symbol of Sacrifice
Closing

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Abstract

Things take a turn in this passage (ll.2441-2449). Not from Hæðcyn’s sorrowful act, but from Beowulf’s direct retelling of his tale to his use of a peculiar simile.

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The Passage in Brief

On lines 2444-46 he compares Hreðel’s sorrows to those of an old man who sees his young son hanging on the gallows (“‘Swā bið geōmorlīc gomelum ceorle/to gebīdanne, þæt his byre rīde/giong on galgan.”) He goes on to expand this image by explaining that the old man can only look on helplessly while the raven rejoices over his son’s corpse (“hrefne tō hrōðre” l.2448).

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Ravens and Ruin?

What makes the image of a raven over Hæðcyn’s corpse so striking is that it not only efficiently brings out Hreðel’s sorrow, but the emotions evoked here resemble those in the “Lay of the Last Survivor.”

This section of the poem (ll.2247-66) details how the one who originally left the dragon’s hoard must have felt, being the last of his people. It describes the futility of treasure without people to use it and with whom it can be shared. But it also emphasizes the importance of community to the Anglo-Saxons.

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The Passage’s Words and a Modernization

The language of this passage is fairly straightforward and strangely filled with words that don’t seem to have changed much between then and now. “gefeoht” for “fight, strife,” “linnan” for “to lie,” “rīde” for “ride,” “giong” for “young,” “sārigne” for “sorrowful” “sunu” for “son,” “hangað” for “to hang,” “hrefne” for “raven,” “helpe” for “help,” and so on. As per coolness factor, one word stands out: “hyge-mēðe.”

The last word in that previous paragraph is a combination of the words “hyge” for “heart, breast, mind” and “mēðe” for “tired, worn out, dejected, sad.”

As far as modernizations go, “heart-sad” sounds both poetic and syrupy at the same time, but “mind-worn” could work for a modernization, I think. It could express a feeling of being so overwhelmed by a task or emotion that your mind is sore; just as a muscle feels sore after it’s been worked out. “mind-tired” could also work, there’d be some internal rhyme that way.

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Beowulf and the Raven

Although it only gets cursory mention here, a little bit of explanation of the raven in Old English lit is in order since I think it plays a larger role here.

The raven is one of the three “Beasts of Battle” (along with the wolf and the eagle) and held many different meanings (check this site for a good deal of info). Just as they’re regarded as bad luck, or ill omens by some today, so too were ravens regarded before the 11th century. But some also associated the raven with victory or sacrifice, and in Old English another word for raven is wælceasega (“chooser of the slain”) linking the bird to the Valkyrie of Old Norse thought.

Aside from the raven in Beowulf’s speech clearly being an ill-omen (Hreðel becomes despondent and the realm is soon threatened by war), I think that it can also be interpreted as a symbol of sacrifice.

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The Raven As Symbol of Sacrifice

Herebeald wasn’t sacrificed in the same way that say, Iphigenia was (by Agamemnon, for a wind to get the Greeks to Troy), but his death could still be regarded as the sacrifice of an eldest son for lasting fame.

Sacrifice is also likely at the fore of Beowulf’s mind at this point – perhaps it is even a cause of his being in such a heavy mood. He knows that he will die if he fights the dragon, but he also knows that doing so will win him fame, save his people, and land them a hefty amount of treasure.

All three of these things are necessary for a good king, as established by Beowulf‘s opening with Scyld Scēfing. He won a great amount of fame, and of treasure and was able to use both to increase his people’s prosperity (ll.4-11).

The treasure also helped his son to forge bonds and obligations with warriors who would fight for his right to succeed his father upon his death (ll.20-24).

Within the situation that Beowulf describes, Herebeald can be read as a sacrifice not just for the fame of Hreðel, but also for the fame of Beowulf.

After all, if Herebeald had lived he may have ruled well and been loved by all, giving Hæðcyn and then Hygelac no reason to rule, and thus leaving Beowulf without a kingship from which to launch his own fame.

So Herebeald’s death is also a sacrifice for the betterment of posterity – even if that eventually leads to the destruction of his people.

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Closing

Next time, Beowulf continues to expand his comparison, detailing how the old man regards nothing in the same light again.

If you’ve got a strong argument for “heart-sad,” “mind-worn,” or “mind-tired” as a new word; if there’s anything about Beowulf that you want to ask; or if there’s anything in the poem that you want to see given special attention, then please do leave a comment.

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The Third Verse of "Tempus Adest Floridum" (Latin)

Introduction
Translations
Words and Rhymes
Closing

Introduction

Seeing that it’s Tuesday, it’s time for the next installment of the song “Tempus Adest Floridum.” So here are my translations of and thoughts on the third verse of the song.

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Translations

Here it is in its basic, literal translation:

This lovely creation shows you oh God,
Which also we entrust all deeds
O time therefore of great joy, which it pleases by laughter
Now renew the world, we are rightly renewed.

And then this is the smoother version:

This lovely creation shows you, oh God,
to whom we entrust deeds both bare and shod.
O time therefore of great joy, pleasing all by laughter.
Now we pray you renew the world as we too are e’er after.

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Words and Rhymes

For the most part this was very straight forward.

There were a few vocabulary issues, since I wasn’t entirely sure about “libet” (“it pleases,” an “impersonal” verb according to my dictionary), and “decet” (it becomes, suits, it is right, proper). But those were solved with a quick look in the dictionary.

Again, I confess that my memory for conjugations and declensions isn’t excellent, and so there may be some issues with those, but for the most part I just followed my general rule. Use the context to figure out the word’s function in the sentence or clause and then just translate the other words in the same conjugation in the same way.

Because the song rhymes in Latin, this generally means that words at the end of lines tend to be those that are the same in terms of conjugation. So I just trim those with the same scissors and everything ends up hunky dory.

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Closing

However, this little experiment is coming to its end. I just have one more verse and then the song will have been finished, and I’ll be moving onto my next project. I’m not entirely sure what it will be, just yet, but I will be looking around my collections for something.

If you have any suggestions for my next Latin translation project please drop me a comment.

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The Second Verse of "Tempus Adest Floridum" (Latin)

Translations
Wrestling with Words
Liberties Taken
Closing

Translations

Alright, So here’s the translated verse that I did today. First, in the original, and then in my more artful, more free translation.

The meadows are full of flowers, these begin appearing.
Where these are brought for all to see, plants with pleasure.
Grasses and shoots, put winter to rest.
In time the spring gets strong and increases.

The meadows are full of flowers, as they start appearing.
These are brought where all may see, plants their pleasure bringing.
Grasses, shoots both rising through, making winter turn in.
Spring growing strong in due time, bringing renewed bird din.

If you want a refresher on the original Latin song, check it out here.

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Wrestling with Words

So there it is, but it wasn’t as easy as the first verse. This one had a few words that really threw me. “incunda” (which I take as a form of “incoho,” meaning to begin, start upon, turn to) was especially tough since I don’t really know how to fit it into the sentence. Nor am I entirely sure of its meaning. But, given the context, it seems to be the best fit.

The other two words that gave me trouble, “aspectu” (to look at/sight/catch sight of) and “delectu” (joy, take pleasure in, etc.), weren’t so difficult to define, but instead were tough to place within the sentence. This difficulty arises for me because I’m not entirely familiar with all of the verb forms once things get as complicated as passives in tenses other than the past and simple present.

However, I am sure that they are verbs since there aren’t any Latin nouns or adjectives that end with a “u” after being conjugated. There are “u” stem words, as there are in Anglo-Saxon, but those have “u” in the stem and do funny things with that. They don’t tend to keep the “u” in anything but the nominative case. And besides all of that, the rules of one language tend not to apply to another in such a direct way.

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Liberties Taken

In any case, those discrepancies in tense make for a bit of an awkward translation which I’ve tried to smooth over in the dolled up version. This led me to a few liberties in my quest to come out with something that rhymes, and these are most noticeable in the last four lines.

Instead of winter just being “put to rest” I’ve changed it to winter being forced to “turn in.” A kind of synonym for put to rest, but with more of a shift-worker kind of tone. And given the regularity of the seasons, it seems like that’s appropriate since I’m working with a traditional personification of the seasons.

In the final couplet of the poem, I mixed it up a bit, and actually replaced the statement about the “increases” of spring with a line about the birds returning. This helps make the whole verse singable to the original melody and completes the rhyme pattern of ABCB for each four lines. I also think that the side by side combination of “bird” and “din” makes for a neat aural pun on the word “burden.”

After all, spring is coming back and so work does need to resume in a medieval agrarian society: the land needs to be cleared of the debris that winter leaves behind, fields need to be tilled and planted, and animals need to be transitioned from winter treatment to summer treatment.

Winter was also no walk in the park for those in the past (and those still without indoor heating/plumbing or refrigeration today), but the workload was comparatively less field-based, or at the least more household-based.

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Closing

Of course, if you take issue with any of my generalizations here, or if you want to suggest an interpretation of one of the words with which I struggled feel free to do so in the comments.

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Beowulf – In Media Res [ll.2401-2409] (Old English)

Introduction
Background to the Project
Old English Appreciation
Section Summary
Two Words
Closing

Introduction

Today I’m breaking out the glittering armour, gift from the ring-giver, a tight-knit coat in the battle-storm.

Yep. Today’s entry is the first about Beowulf.

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Background to the Project

It’s a project that started in my third year of studying for my BA, though it didn’t really take off until just after I had finished that degree. I’m using the bilingual edition of Seamus Heaney’s translation that has the Anglo Saxon original on the left and the poet’s translation on the right (an online version of the original can be found here).

Heaney’s arrangement is great, but the running glossary in George Jack’s student edition is even more helpful – when I borrowed it from the library for a graduate class I barely used my dictionary.

However, now that Jack’s edition is back in Victoria and I’m over in Ontario, I make good use of my copy of the Fourth Edition of the Anglo-Saxon Dictionary as edited by Hall and Meritt. If I can’t find a word in the dictionary then I’ll usually look it up in the website Old English Made Easy’s dictionary.

The weight of this project hasn’t crushed me just yet, but it is something that has provided an ongoing struggle. Not just because of the size of the poem, but because its use of multiple adjectival clauses can really cloud sense and make things seem obtuse.

However, when things get grammatical, my Magic Sheet is never out of sight. This handy little chart from the English Faculty at the University of Virigina summarizes the declensions and conjugations of everything in Old English, so it’s super useful.

So armed, I’ve been able to translate 5/6 of the poem over the years and once I’m finished my plan is to bring a consistent voice to the whole thing (possibly by re-writing), type it up, and try to get it published. A bold move perhaps, but this is something that I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s just a bunch of barbarians hitting each other (and monsters) over the head with pointy sticks to some, but to me it’s a piece of grand old art.

And it’s something that’s fun to translate.

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Old English Appreciation

Sure, the grammar can get sticky and there are points that scholars still contend to this day (was Beowulf swimming until nightfall to get to the bottom of the mire? Why does the Danish bard sing such a sad song after Beowulf’s victory?). But there’s a joie de vivre in the poet/scribes’ language that isn’t really present in a lot of Modern English.

And no, I’m not a snob. I think that Middle English (Chaucerian English) and Early Modern (Shakespearean English) are just as lovely. But when all of the grammarians stuck their fingers in the delicious hot pie that was English in the 17th and 18th centuries they sucked a lot of life out of it. They set it up to become a reliable and powerful lingua franca for all, but they made it a little bit dull in the process.

Now when somebody drops a consonant and replaces it with an apostrophe people are all up ins. And slang is slang. Before the grammarians came about (I’m looking at you Samuel Johnson) all of English (all the dialects) were pretty slang-laden. It’s just the way that the language was.

And it was grand.

Not so great for national or international communication maybe, but the plays, treatises, and poems that remain are all excellent examples of what a language can do.

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Section Summary

Anyway, I don’t want this entry to be fully derailed by a rant. Right now I’m working through the scene where Beowulf fights the dragon, so I’m really sticking to the story-telling principle of starting in media res.

But, true to most modern novels, I’m starting just where the action is picking up – Beowulf has just gotten his band of 11 fellow Geats together and has compelled the slave that brought him the dragon’s cup to guide them the the lizard’s lair.

All of this happens in lines 2401-2409.

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Two Words

Two words really struck me in section:

First, “gebolgen” on l. 2401. It reminds me of the “Gáe Bolga,” the mysterious, foot-held spear that Cuchulain was trained in by the warrior woman Scáthach, and with which he killed his friend and rival Ferdiad in the Táin Bó Cuailnge.

The other word that caught my eye was “meldan,” from l.2405. This one means finder according to Heaney. The dictionary definition is “tell, reveal, accuse” – but I’m guessing that Heaney let his translation lean on “cwom” (come) the combination of which with “tell, reveal, accuse” suggests a kind of giving – like coming with tales or news, things which are only useful if given.

Plus, a shiny cup from a whole pile of treasure would indeed be welcome news to any Geat (or Anglo-Saxon listener).

Though, I do admit that combining words in this way is kind of like trying to stretch a single ox hide over an acre of land.

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Closing

If you’ve got any suggestions/corrections for me, leave them in a comment. I’ll be back next week with Beowulf’s arrival at the cave.

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First Verse of "Tempus Adest Floridum" (Latin)

Introduction
Translations
Word Issues
Liberties Taken
Closing

Introduction

So this song, “Tempus Adest Floridum,” is the origin of the tune for “Old King Wenceslas.” However, as you’ll notice from the title and from the song’s content it has nothing to do with old King Wenceslas.

You can find the full song in its original Latin here.

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Translations

First my literal translation:

The time for flowers now is come, for the flowers rise up.
Spring in all things, the likeness/copy of nature.
This which ice had attacked, has recovered warmth.
We all see this weeping, by great work.

And my dolled up translation (with some rhyme):

The time for flowers now is come, for the flowers now arise.
All things now are of the spring, nature’s likeness is in all eyes.
This which winter once had attacked, has regained its fire;
We all see winter’s weeping, since spring has perspired.

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Word Issues

The issues that came up for me during this translation were relatively minor, just a few issues with words not being in my Collins Pocket Gem dictionary. The words in question?

“Vernales” (an adjective meaning “of Spring” was the worst); “Cerno” (ere, crevi, cretum; a verb meaning to see, discern, understand, perceive, etc.); and “fleo” (ere, evi, etum; a verb meaning to weep, cry, lament, mourn for) were close seconds since I had to twist things around to make good sense of it all.

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Liberties Taken

Obviously, I took some liberties with the second use of “hoc” (“this”) to bring in Winter again, but I like the personification of the seasons to which this song gives rise.

It isn’t direct personification, necessarily, but the conceit definitely helps to make the translation more fun. And, since the original image seems to be that of icicles dripping (hence weeping), making winter the weeper seems appropriate.

The conquest of spring also makes it a more joyous song, even if that joy is derived from conquest.

Though I must admit that a pop song about Spring coming in and ruining Winter’s shit might be fun as well, the cycle of nature can be pretty brutal after all.

“Transpire” could also have worked as the final word of the verse, but I think that spring is generally a wet season, and “perspire” is a wetter word. It also implies that much more effort was used, and if a season is going to be made to weep I imagine that even another season is going to need to break a sweat.

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Closing

So that’s verse one of “Tempus Adest Floridum.” Expect verse two next week.

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