sheep!…Sheep! – Sheep! [12: 10-12] (Latin)

{A woolly one on the green. From the Netherland National Library’s Collection.}

Following up on his explanation of the differences between pack animals and herd animals – leaving off with the fact that “families” prefer to use goats/sheep for their sacrifices – St. Isidore explains a little bit more about this wondrous animal: the sheep.

Before getting to the translation, however, it must be pointed out that “families” is just one way to translate “gentilis.”

The almost automatic translation is “Gentile,” which may work, but the English translation of the Etymologiae that I use as a loose base text renders it “pagan.” To combine this with the Collins Pocket Gem Latin Dictionary’s translation of “family,” the word “gentilis” will be translated as “pagan clan” from here on out.

Now, without further ado, this week’s translation:

“[10] Wethers, also called males, which are stronger than other sheep; or which are virile, that is of masculine gender; or which have worms in their heads, which excite them by itching to strike each other with mutual force, and to carry out fights with great energy.

[11] Ares or [apo tou areos], that is Mars, these are called; so they are called manly in the flock by us or if that flock belongs to a pagan clan, the ram is first among the flock sacrificed. For the ram is placed on the altars by them. From whence it is: (Sedul. 1,115):

‘Upon the altar sacrifice the ram.’

[12] Lambs in Greek are called [apo tou agnou], as if holy, Latins on the other hand believe that the animal is so named for this reason, for compared with other animals it knows its mother; so that if ever it gets lost in a large flock, it immediately knows its parents by the call of their bleating.”
(St. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae: 12: 10-12)

(N.B.: the parts in square brackets are given in Ancient Greek: a dead language that I have yet to try my hand at.)

Where to start with this one? There’s the worms that, St. Isidore writes, are the reason for rams butting each others’ heads; there’s the weird reference to a mysterious work that clearly names rams as sacrifices; and there’s the etymology of the Latin word for lamb: “agnus.”

The beginning is always good.

The idea that worms cause a great itching on rams’ heads and this drives them to fight, is pure medieval bestiary material.

Completely wild ideas, but completely interesting, to boot. What’s most interesting about this idea though, is that it suggests that sheep are naturally harmonious. It isn’t that they butt their heads against trees to help soothe their itching heads, but they butt each other’s heads with “mutual force” (“invicem se concutiunt”). There’s a sense that these animals help each other out.

Even if this explanation for rams charging at each other is fantastical, it’s curious that such camaraderie is ascribed to sheep.

That these animals are also the ones that “Sedul.” dictates for sacrifice follows from this perception of sheep, no doubt. After all, why sacrifice any old animal?

If an animal has special value to humans it will be worth more amongst them. But if an animal seems to have a society going on that is similar to human society (considered the apex of all creation at this time), that must mean that within the cosmos the animal has a worth near that of humans. So, if you’re not going to sacrifice humans, why not sacrifice the next best thing – animals that help each other out.

Better yet, why not sacrifice animals that also show an inherent recognition of family?

The etymology for the Latin word for lamb, “agnus,” adds to this picture of sheep as a human-like animal, at least as far as values go. The word’s ascribed origin (the Latin word “agnosco,” meaning “to know”) also reflects the animal’s apparently Christian values – harmonious living among brethren and being aware of family. In particular, Isidore’s description of a lamb recognizing its parents by the sound of their voice (“statim balatu recognoscat vocem parentis” 12.12) is rather reminiscent of the tripartite holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

What’s perplexing though, is that sheep are so fixated on here.

Don’t calves know their mothers? Don’t foals?

Why are sheep so elevated as to have an etymology relating them to the Latin word “agnosco” meaning “to know”? Another, related question, is how “agnosco” morphed into the modern English “agnostic.”

At any rate, sheep might be so highly regarded and focused on simply because they could continuously provide. Year after year they could be sheared, some could be milked, and some could be slaughtered; so year after year they would provide food *and* clothing.

It’s hyperbolic, but that sheep give material for clothing and food turns the Chinese proverb “A warm coat is better than a fully belly” on its ear, since sheep could provide both. Couple that with their perceived cosmic value, and you’ve got a super animal.

What do you think about Isidore’s ideas of sheep? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

So, can St. Isidore best himself as he starts to write of goats? Find out next week!

Before that, though, this week sees Beowulf wrapping up his history lesson and moving into a demonstration of effective boasting. Check back Thursday for it!

Of Sweaty Armpits and Family Sacrifices [12:7-9] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Some Words to Wonder About
Cows of the Violent Kine
Family and Sacrifices
Closing

Abstract

St. Isidore goes into further detail about pack animals and flocks in today’s extract. And he reveals a thing or two about why sheep are so popular as sacrificial animals.

Back To Top
Translation

“[7]The name ‘pack animal’ is derived from their pulling, that they do for our work, or the help they give us in carrying up things or with plowing. For oxen draw the two wheeled coach, and turn the stiff soil of the earth with the ploughshare; horses and donkeys carry loads, and humans, walking in their wake, guide their labour. And so pack animals are so called from those that are of help to men: truly they are animals of powerful greatness.

[8] Also, there are the cattle, whose weapons are attached, that is for war; or that make use of these horns. We understand other cattle to be oxen, for plowing, as if horned or that are equipped with horns. Moreover the cattle are distinguished from the flocks: for cattle are horses and oxen, flocks are truly she-goats and sheep.

[9] Sheep are a soft fleecy herd, with a defenceless body, a gentle spirit, and calling forth with its voice; it is not the oxen that a priest keeps near at hand for the mysteries, but the sheep that are killed for the sacrifice. From this they call them two pronged, those that have two higher teeth amongst eight, those are the ones that families offer exceedingly oft in their sacrifices.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:7-9)

Angel to Abraham: “You’re doing it wrong.”

Back To Top
Some Words to Wonder About

These three sections at last get clear and close, dealing with things in a markedly medieval manner by looking at categories and clarifying just what those categories mean. Thankfully, it also seems to be going somewhere now. The pack animals are defined, as well as the cattle and the flocks. So Isidore’s moving right along here.

As far as curious words go, “capra” (“she-goat,” or “odour of armpits”) is definitely the strangest in this passage. Particularly fascinating about this word is its standing as a pretty stark reminder of the lack of deodorant in the 7th century when Isidore was writing. Goats might’ve been kept by some throughout the city of Seville as well, making for an immediate and visceral olfactory sensation.

Though, in a society without indoor plumbing, one wonders why a she-goat of all things is paired with the “odour of armpits.”

Speaking of which, when might that second meaning have became attached to the word? Did “capra” have these two meanings from the time it was first used as a word or did it pick up the meaning “odour of armpits” because people realized that armpits and she-goats at least have that in common? We may never know, but that’s part of the fun.

Back To Top
Cows of the Violent Kine

From Isidore’s description, it sounds like cattle were more violent then, too, or at least more prone to actually using their horns. That’s what their having horns and their being described in martial terms (“armis,” meaning “arms, especially for melee combat”) suggests.

It’s also likely that the connection could be held among those who work with cattle as well as the learned who write of cattle, since both groups could have access to stories of bulls and their tempers.

Back To Top
Family and Sacrifices

Isidore’s mention of families in paragraph 9 (“gentiles”) is also curious, since it seems almost like a promotional plug – 9/10 families sacrifice sheep with two teeth more prominent than the eight. So why is it there? Is family sacrifice still prevalent? Was it just something done for Easter?

The use of the semi-colon (yes, inserted after the fact, since original mss don’t have punctuation aside from diacritics marking abbreviations and such) suggests that the two sentences are related, but why are those qualities important for a good sacrificial animal?

The soft fleecy-ness, the naturally defenseless body, and the gentle nature – as well as the voice that calls out (“oblatione” which in St. Isidore’s Late Latin referred to a solemn offering) – all of them suggest some sort of inherent sacrificial function.

Soft means penetrable, offering little resistance to the knife, as does the defenceless body. And the gentle spirit suggests that the lamb wouldn’t begrudge the knife.

But the voice that calls out – it could reference an idea that the sheep bleated out a prayer itself as it was being killed or incinerated. An animal uttering such a prayer in death would definitely be favoured for sacrifice, since that bleating could also have the sacrificer’s own prayer projected upon it.

A petition sacrificed in that a way – burned up in the vessel of a living being rather than a piece of paper – would add power to that prayer. Possibly even in early Christian minds.

Back To Top
Closing

If you’ve got your own ideas about what some of the subtext or connotations of Isidore’s mention of “families” or structure mean let me know about it in a comment. And do follow this blog if you enjoy it – I’ll be sure to follow yours if you have one.

Check back Thursday for the next section of Beowulf, wherein Beowulf tells of the strife between Swede and Geat – and the fall of a prominent man.

Back To Top

Read on for the Difference Between Herds and Heads of Animals! [12: 4-6] (Latin)

Introduction
Summary
Translation
Splitting Hairs
The Duality of “Cow”
Closing

{A sheep – certainly a heard animal. Image from the National Library of the Netherlands}

Introduction

Welcome back to St. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae – specifically book 12, part I (about herd and pack animals).

Back To Top
Summary

This week’s entry sees St. Isidore explain quadruped herd animals before moving on to differentiate herd animals from working animals. Let’s get straight to it!

Back To Top
Translation

[4] “They are called quadrupeds that walk on four feet: which are similar to herd animals save that they are not under human care; such as hinds, deer, wild donkeys, and others. But this does not include beasts like lions; nor pack animals, such as those humans may/can use like cattle.

[5] “We call all those lacking human languages and likenesses herds. On the other hand, strictly speaking, the name of a herd of such animals as those that are or could be used for food is called by this animal’s name alone, like sheep and pigs or those used for human convenience like horses and oxen.

[6] “The difference between herds and heads of animals: because beasts of burden gather in significance all such animals are called a herd, on the other hand heads of beasts are only those animals which graze, as do the sheep. But in general all that graze are called herd animals.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12: 4-6)

Back To Top
Splitting Hairs

Paragraphs [5] and [6] are definitely about splitting hairs. But that’s Isidore’s business here, to try to differentiate between things so finely that his words only differ in their inflection on the page, subtle differences only really visible in their conjugation.

The words that best exemplify this are “pecus, -oris,” meaning “cattle, herd, flock; animal,” and “pecus, -udis,” meaning “sheep, herd of cattle, beast.” Their genitive singular forms (the standard case for a dictionary headword) are clearly similar.

But what really makes their similarity muddying is that when Isidore is describing the difference between herds and heads of animals he only defines one of his two categories.

After all, he points out that herd animals “graze like sheep” (“eduntur, quasi pecuedes”) and then just implies that those that don’t are called by “heads of [animals]” (such as a head of cattle).

It might be something that’s coming through as a result of translation, but it seems that Isidore is struggling to really make himself clear because he’s making such fine distinctions. But before I read too far into this sense of struggle, onto the next word.

Back To Top
The Duality of “Cow”

“Iuvenca, ae,” meaning “heifer, girl.” It’s probable that this word had a specific connotation when Latin was still spoken across the Roman Empire, but it’s still quite telling of Roman culture that the same word could refer to a girl and a heifer.

Perhaps this second meaning wasn’t necessarily negative, but it’s difficult to see it as anything other than an insult of one sort or another.

After all, such a connotation for “cow” is still present in Modern English; “cow” sometimes sits in for b@!$&h. See for yourself here.

Also, my Latin dictionary lacks the heavy distinction that I hope might be present between the words “cervi” and “dammae” both of which can mean deer (cervi can also mean “hind” but a hind is just a specific sort of deer). Maybe I need to get a better dictionary, or maybe I just need to turn to my readers for a bit of aid.

Back To Top
Closing

If you’ve got a way to split apart the words that seem too close to me, or want me to translate more of Isidore per entry let me know about it in a comment.

And check back Thursday for Beowulf’s wrapping up of Hrethel’s woes in his informal history of the old king’s sons.

Back To Top

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.}

Back To Top
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”).

Back To Top
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)

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top

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

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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).

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top

The Final Notes of "Tempus Adest Floridum" (Latin)

Introduction
The Whole Song
A Time for Recitation
Now it is the Animal Hour
Closing

Introduction

Now that I’ve translated the entire song “Tempus Adest Floridum”, I’ve brought it all together. I also made some improvements to the last two verses to get them to better fit the song’s meter, and I think that it came out rather nicely. Here’s how I’m going to pledge my complete translation to the ages:

Back To Top
The Whole Song

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

“The meadows are full of flowers now, as they start &nbsp&nbspappearing.
These are brought where all may see, plants their pleasure &nbsp&nbspbringing,
Grasses, shoots both rising through, making winter turn &nbsp&nbspin.
Spring growing stronger in due time, bringing renewed bird &nbsp&nbspdin.

“This lovely creation shows your fullness, oh God,
to whom we entrust all deeds whether they be bare or shod.
O time therefore of great joy, pleasing all by laughter,
Now we pray you renew the world fill our souls to the &nbsp&nbsprafters.

“The earth is filled by flowers now, and with much beauty,
Death and love we now do dignify absolutely.
Thus we now in this season most pleasing rejoice,
With praise and laud of the lord with our heart’s voice.”

Back To Top
A Time for Recitation

And here’s a version that I wouldn’t mind the ages getting a hold of, but really have no strong feelings either way:

And with that, “Tempus Adest Floridum” is complete.

Back To Top
Now it is the Animal Hour

Now, it’s my intention to work on mostly medieval Latin on this blog and with that in mind I’ve decided to move on to an entry from Isidore of Seville‘s Etymologiae.

The Etymologiae is the medieval world’s Wikipedia, essentially, an encyclopedia covering all fathomable topics.

Of course, Isidore didn’t write it, but he did compile it – much like how the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary wasn’t written by a single person or even a small group, but was an effort of an entire mass sending in slips of paper with words and meanings and uses.

Because medieval bestiaries are often great fun, I’ll be translating a passage about an animal. Which animal, however, I’ll leave a mystery until next week.

Back To Top
Closing

If you want to compliment my reciting voice, perhaps make a special request, or just drop a line, feel free to do so in the comments.

Back To Top