"Dum Diane vitrea" – in Full!

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Closing

<!–

{A stained glass window from The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, also known simply as Seville Cathedral. Image from the Wikipedia.}

–>

Back To Top
Abstract

The complete translation of “Dum Diane vitrea” complete with recordings!

Back To Top
Translation

“When Diana’s glassy torch rises late
And is kindled by her rosy brothers,
A pleasant breath of wind lifts
the etheric cloud from all couples;
Thus she softens emotive power
And immoveable hearts, which
Towards the pledge of love she sways.

As the light of the evening star fades,
Charm’s humour is given to
The drowsy dew of fleeting passion.

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.

“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.

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!

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 helpers.

As beneath a leafy canopy of trees,
it is so sweet to cease when the nightingale sings.
How sweet to play in the meadow grass
with a bright beauty of a maid,
if there be many fragrant herbs to breath
if there be a bed of roses on which to lay,
oh how sweet the nourishment of sleep
after being exhausted by the chase of Venus’ trade,
which instills such sleepiness.

Oh how great the unreliable varying
of the spirit of love!
It is as a wandering raft upon the seas,
when free from anchor,
In flux between hope and fear, both dubious;
So goes the battle of Venus.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” [Complete])

Back To Top
Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

Back To Top
Closing

That’s it for the medieval Latin poem “Dum Diane vitrea”! That’s also it for my translations of Latin. From here on in, it’s Old English all the way!

Also, though this blog’s name and layout will stay the same for the rest of December, watch for a new name and design come the new year.

Back To Top

Rafting through Battlefields ["Dum Diane vitrea" Eighth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
An Opening Question
Pondering Love’s Dualities
Closing

{Enjoined in love’s embrace – along with that bird’s. Image found on Michael Delahoyde’s Courtly Love webpage.}

Back To Top
Abstract

The poem wraps up with a brief meditation on the nature of love (possibly both physical and emotional).

Back To Top
Translation

“Oh in how great the unreliable varying
of the spirit of love!
It is as a wandering raft upon the seas,
when free from anchor,
In flux between hope and fear, both dubious;
So goes the battle of Venus.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 8)

Back To Top
Recordings

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

Back To Top
An Opening Question

As the cap on the bottle of wisdom that is this poem, this final stanza rings so true that some might call it cliché. All’s fair in love and war, love is a many faceted thing, etc, etc, etc. But there’s more to it than that.

The images that this stanza evokes are those of the unanchored raft (“ratis”), and a battle (or, more stiffly, “campaign,” (“militia”)). Both of these are set at the whim of chance, and no manner of preparation can bring complete success. Neither being incredibly knowledgeable about seamanship nor a well-seasoned veteran will grant you a 100% guaranteed survival or victory. And of course, so it goes with love.

But why the image of a raft and a battle? Why not double down on the same image, rather than invoking both?

Back To Top
Pondering Love’s Dualities

Because, at least so far as my theory goes, this stanza cuts to the quick of the poem and the poet’s point for one final time. These images, at their most basic, are about the conflict of humans v. nature, and humans v. humans. Such a duality of imagery sets up the poem to make a point about the dual facets of love that seem to be the poet’s major concern.

If this was written by Abelard, than his feelings towards love (particularly if it was written *after* the business of Eloise was *ahem* cut off) would definitely be much more than something romantic or cynical. Though both are certainly present. What could be more romantic than comparing one’s feelings of love to an unmoored raft, and what more cynical than reducing them to something that can be worked through with a mixture of tactics, strategy and chance?

But the argument to be made about the poem being about physical and emotional love gets most of its steam from the adjective attached to battle – “Venus” (“Veneris”).

Without delving too deep into ancient meanings of the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite) – at my own peril, I admit – invoking this love goddess suggests a leaning much more to the physical side of things. First and foremost among my reasons for thinking so is the fact that whomeever the poet is, they are more than likely Christian, and so any pagan deity is going to be used as a simple reference rather than anything particularly deep.

Besides that, there is something of a tradition of referring to the journey of the Christian mystic to god as being adrift at sea (and, though it may not directly relate, Anglo-Saxons associated such journeying with the extremities of loneliness, something that might come into the emotional mix of vacillating love). Because there’s the possibility of the raft image making this religious reference, I think that it’s quite likely that the direct reference to Venus is included to balance the poem.

The placement of these images, then, takes on some extra meaning. After all, it’s definitely no secret that the majority of the poem has had connotations of physical rather than spiritual love, and so placing the spiritual before the physical in this the final stanza suggests that the spiritual must precede the physical. Or, at the least, it implies that it can in itself be a mooring for the fluxes in the physical aspect of love, if you can manage to find anchor.

What then, the poem ultimately says is that it’s necessary to love spiritually, or platonically, or just plain emotionally, before loving physically. This highlighting of the spiritual while closing with the physical is a convenient and brief way to excuse what has come before while keeping tongue firmly in cheek (just as Chaucer’s retraction does for The Canterbury Tales).

Back To Top
Closing

That’s it for new entries for the rest of the month. Watch this blog on Tuesday 4 December, for the final “Dum Diane vitrea” entry (including recordings of it in Latin and English), and a special announcement about a major change coming to this blog.

Back To Top

Of Sleep, Nature, and Maidens Bright ["Dum Diane vitrea" Seventh Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Euphemisms and Implications
So What
Transformations
Closing

{Edmund Spenser’s Una with the lion and the lamb, a maiden bright indeed. Image found on Wikipedia}

Back To Top
Abstract

Pure nature comes alive in this penultimate stanza.

Back To Top
Translation

“As beneath a leafy canopy of trees,
it is so sweet to cease when the nightingale sings.
How sweet to play in the meadow grass
with a bright beauty of a maid,
if there be many fragrant herbs to breath
if there be a bed of roses on which to lay,
oh how sweet the nourishment of sleep
after being exhausted by the chase of Venus’ trade,
which instills such sleepiness.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 7)

Back To Top
Recordings

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

Back To Top
Euphemisms and Implications

Where stanza four offered us a look at some quasi-natural imagery, this stanza brings it all back to pure nature. And, as was the case with previous stanzas, the poet’s lingering obsession seems to be on sleepiness after sex.

But, more importantly, the reference to sex is never made directly. “Venus’ trade” (“Veneris commercia”) appears as it did in stanza five, but that is, after all, a euphemism. However, the romp described throughout this stanza can be likened to a sort of Edenic experience, and things that have made their way into modern romance (such as the “bed of roses” (“torum rosa”), make the association between this sort of natural play and sex quite clear.

But so what? The connections are there, but why are they there? Matters of who wrote this poem aside, the question to tackle now is why this poem – up to this stanza – has been written quite clearly about sex in such an indirect way.

Back To Top
So What?

The lack of direct reference to sex is definitely not suspect considering the poem’s medieval origin. It was only the most bawdy of broadsheets that would refer to sex directly, and even when Chaucer wants to emulate the style of the basest of the base with his Cook he doesn’t reference sex directly but uses the contemporary equivalent of our “fuck” (“swyve” (The Canterbury Tales, l.4422 (or II.iv.98, depending on your edition))).

So the euphemism via natural imagery and the idyllic setting are certainly not out of place. The connection to sex is essentially there because it’s how medieval poets spoke of such things.

After all, the last thing sex was supposed to be then (and some would no doubt argue still is to be in the eyes of the Catholic Church) was fun or pleasurable. People who shared the opinion of the Wife of Bath, that human genitals are there to use, come kids or not, were definitely in the vocal minority. Hence, the need for this sort of natural imagery to create an allegorical window between the subject of a poem like this and readers.

It could be argued that as readers themselves, writers and poets like the composer of “Dum Diane vitrea” would be aware of these sorts of double meanings, but things like poetry and fiction could be dismissed as frivulous entertainments with no deeper meanings (hence there being so much lewdness couched within them).

Back To Top
Transformations

And what imagery it is! the poet here definitely describes something as any poet should: with brevity, depth, and affect. More importantly, however, is the fact that the image of a forest and a bright maid definitely contrast with the dusk and night imagery from poem’s first stanza.

This shift in tone reflects a shift in the poem’s subjects, from worn out daily toilers to rested and enraptured lovers. And, perhaps that is the poet’s point. That in the eye of the storm that is the everyday, there is to be found a moment of calm, quiet, sunshiny love that inspires poetry, frolics, and fine words.

Back To Top
Closing

Check back here Thursday for Beowulf!

Back To Top

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.}

Back To Top
Abstract

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

Back To Top
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)

Back To Top
Recordings

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

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.’

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top

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.}

Back To Top
Abstract

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

Back To Top
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)

Back To Top
Recordings

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

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
Closing

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

Back To Top

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.}

Back To Top
Abstract

Some of the virtues of sex are indirectly extolled.

Back To Top
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)

Back To Top
Recordings

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

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
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.

Back To Top
Closing

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

Back To Top