Sunday, 17 May 2009

Interesting but annoying...

To keep my Latin up (without having recourse to the Venerable, albeit boring, St Bede), I amuse myself by reading and translating short stories from various books that I have. Sometimes I also try to tackle more ''advanced'' stuff, such as St Leo's sermons, or the Odes of Horace but this is often self-defeating! Anyway, the one I have done today is based on the Pardoner's Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (a masterpiece of English literature, and very religious), and is called ''In Pursuit of Death.'' I produce here the Latin text with my translation:

Tres iuvenes in taberna bibebant et deos immortales magna voce vituperabant; tristissima erant, et non sine causa. 'eheu!' dicebant; 'morbus dirus urbem nostram affligit. Mors omnes amicos nostros interficit. Mortem quaerere debemus. Necesse est nobis Mortem ipsum interficere.'
Itaque iuvenes ex urbe contenderunt et mox senem invenerunt. Ille baculum tenens lente procedebat et terram pulsabat, semper 'cara mater,' clamans, 'admitte me!'
Iuvenes eum rogaverunt: 'Mortemne vidisti? nam quaerimus eum.'
'Et ego eum quaero,' respondit senex. 'Nuper eum sub illa arbore sedentem conspexi.'
Iuvenes igitur ad arborem festinaverunt. Ibi multum aurum in olla celatum invenerunt.
'Euge! divites nunc sumus,' inquit iuvenis natu maximus. 'Ad urbem contendite! nunc cenare et bibere debemus.'
'Festina lente!' inquit iuvenis natu minimus. 'Melius est noctu aurum ad urbem ferre. Tum nemo nos videre potest.'
'Ita vero!' inquit medius iuvenis. 'Sed nunc cibum consumere et vinum bibere possumus. Tu ad urbem furtim contende! Cibum et vinum nobis compara!'
Iuvenis natu minimus, ubi ad urbem advenit, non solum cibum et vinum emit, sed etiam venenum potentissimum. Venenum in amphoram vini miscuit. 'Ita,' inquit, 'omne aurum habere possum.'
Sed postquam ille ad amicos rediit, iuvenis natu maximus bracchia eius comprehendit. Deinde medius iuvenis pugionem inter costas impulit. Ille, ab amicis suis superatus, mortuus decidit.
'Nunc etiam divitores sumus!' inquit iuvenis natu maximus. 'Vinum bibe et bonam fortunam saluta!'
Vinum igitur avide hauserunt. Mox venenum, per venas manans, ad corda advenit. Illi quoque mortui deciderunt.
Iuvenes, a sene ducti, Mortem ipsum re vera invenerant.

Three young men were drinking in the pub and with great voice were cursing the immortal gods; they were very sad, and not without cause. 'Alas!' they were saying, 'a terrible disease has afflicted our city. Death has killed all our friends. We ought to seek after Death. It is necessary for us to kill Death itself.'
And so the youths hurried from the city and soon found an old man. The same holding a staff was proceeding slowly and was striking the earth, always crying 'dear mother admit me!'
The young men asked him: 'Have you not seen Death? For we seek him.'
'And I seek him,' responded the old man. 'Recently I have caught sight of him sitting under that tree.'
Therefore the young men hurried to the tree. There they found much gold hidden in a pot.
'Hurray! Now we are rich,' said the eldest. 'Hurry to the city! Now we ought to eat and to drink.'
'Hurry slowly!' said said the youngest. 'It is better to bring the gold to the city at night. Then no one will be able to see us.'
'It is so,' said the middle one. 'But now we are able to eat food and to drink wine. You hurry back to the city in secret! Obtain for us food and wine!'
The youngest, when he came to the city, not only brought food and wine, but also a most powerful poison. He mixed the poison in a large jar. 'So,' said he, 'I am able to have all the gold.'
But after the same returned to his friends, the eldest seized his arm. Then the middle one thrust a dagger between his ribs. He, overcome by his friends, fell down dead.
'Now we are even richer!' said the eldest. 'Drink wine and salute good fortune!'
Therefore they eagerly drank the wine. Soon the poison, working its way through the veins, came to their hearts. They also fell down dead.
The young men, led by the old man, found Death itself in truth.
For those familiar with Chaucer, this is generally true to the original. It is simple Latin for a simple mind (my own), but what has annoyed me is that the author has paganized the text by introducing something completely alien to Chaucer - ''deos immortales'' - this may seem a triviality to some of you, but for me this sort of thing is important and represents two things. One, a mistaken belief that Latin died with the ''fall'' of Rome (that is another error, Rome never ''fell,'' taken to mean suddenly, and that civilisation then failed and someone declared the Dark Ages to have begun; it was a gradual process of decline) and was not continued by the Church of Rome, the only true builder of Western civilisation, in her Liturgy and in her monasteries. Two, this sort of thing represents, to me at least, that modern tendency (alas! all too easy to find nowadays) to downgrade the role of the Church in education. Also, because of this novelty, the text reads pretty much as a pagan fable, with only a loose ethical message. As such, Religion is treated as a private taboo, a burden that we take on ourselves, and certainly not to be enforced upon anyone (Heaven forbid that we do as Christ told us and bear witness to Him!). Oh well, in these times of darkness, I ought not to expect much else.


  1. Salve Patricie,

    I agree there does seem to be a tendency to make everything Latin pertain to ancient Rome, forgetting that the language has been used for centuries after the 'fall' of the empire, even up to the present day.

    This prompted me to look out a book which I brought quite a few years ago when trying to refresh my Latin grammar, and which somewhat bucks the trend by using humorous stories set in a mediaval monastery for many of its translation exercises. It is called "Teach Yourself Beginner's Latin", by G.D.A. Sharpley, and despite the title does pursue Latin to a reasonably high level. I believe it is still in print, and is definitely worth having a look at for amusement.

    Also on the subject of translating poetry in English into Latin, one of my favourites has to be a translation of Gertrude Stein -
    "Rosa, rosa, rosa est est"!


  2. Many thanks for your post Mattaeus. I had never heard of the Sharpley book, but (when I get paid!) I shall look out for it. Vale o/