Sunday, 24 February 2013

Catull 84 `Tell the hofficer that 'Arry 'as come on 'is 'orse!



I come from an area in the Netherlands where people have difficulties in pronouncing the initial h: the place Assen is called Hassen and Hoogeveen becomes Oogeveen. In the 60ties my father once needed a new fishing permit and pronounced his initials and name to the civil servant: AH (pronounced aa ha in Dutch) Tepper. He got the permit with the initials HA written on it!
This phenomenon is not new: the Romans too had problems with the initial h, as can be concluded from the various spelling harena (the right spelling) and arena. Italian has no words any more with initial h, French has, but the h is not pronounced, like the h in hour. This word is a loanword from old French. When it entered the English language in the 13th century, old French had already lost the pronunciation.
Catull describes a like phenomenon in poem 84: a certain Arrius used to put the h before every initial vowel and initial consonants got aspirated. Aspiration is unknown in Latin, except for Greek loanwords like philosophia – mind that ph was pronounced as an aspirated p and not as f!
There are two problems with this poem: who is Arrius and where does his habit come from. As for the identity, there are good reasons to believe that Arrius was the self-made orator Q. Arrius, once mentioned by Cicero in his book Brutus 242-3. This Arrius was connected with Crassus, whom we know to have been in Syria in 55 BC.
Next the explanation of this habit: some believe it was a peculiarity of a language still spoken by many Romans, maybe Etruscan or Venetic. Another possibility – and I think more likely - is that the pronunciation of the initial h was already lost in the Latin spoken by the lower strata of Roman society. So what we see here is hypercorrection: Arrius, whose grandparents were libertini (line 5), came from these lower strata and to be sure he hit the right pronunciation, he used the h always!
Of course there is no absolute certainty. Sometimes philology is a kind of detective work, but alas! many times it is impossible to catch the criminals as they hide themselves behind the text.


Catull 84
Meter: Elegiac couplets     
Chommoda dicebat, si quando commoda vellet
dicere, et insidias Arrius hinsidias,
et tum mirifice sperabat se esse locutum
cum quantum poterat dixerat hinsidias.
credo, sic mater, sic liber avunculus eius,
sic maternus avus dixerat atque avia
requierant omnibus aures:
audibant eadem haec leniter et leviter,
nec sibi postilla metuebant talia verba,
cum subito adfertur nuntius horribilis:
Ionios fluctus, postquam illuc Arrius isset,
iam non Ionios esse, sed Hionios.

Chommoda: pronounce this word as khomodum, with a loud h! It could be that this is simply an exaggeration of Catull. commodum: profit, gain
insidiae: trap, ambush
mirifice sperabat se esse locutum:  `in some wondrous way fancied himself to be fine speaking’
liber:   it is strange that Catull calls his uncle free-born. It could be that he is freeborn, but that his parents were libertini: former slaves set free by their owner. When Arrius, was indeed the Arrius mentioned by Cicero, then of course everyone knew his parentage and Catull needed only this to bring back this detail about the parentage of Arrius.
avunculus: brother of the mother
avus: grandfather
avia: grandmother. Note that only the maternal side is mentioned.
requierant = requiverant from requiesco: to get rest
hoc misso in Syriam: this detail is necessary for the pun at the end as to get to Syria by ship, one had to cross the Ionian sea.
eadem haec (verba)
leniter et leviter: smoothly and softly
postilla: later
nuntius: message (it can also mean `messenger’, think of ‘papal nuncio`)

This translation and adaptation nicely captures the spirit of this poem:

When he wanted to say `advantage’ Arrius said
`hadvantage’. Likewise `hambushes’ instead
of `ambushes’ pronounced with hurricane force
and hugh self-satisfaction.  (Well of course,
his mother, his uncle with the ex-slave’s name
and both his mother’s parents had the same
habit.) When Arrius was sent away
to the East, all ears enjoyed a holiday;
none of us dreaded aitches: vowels were spoken
harmoniously. Since then grim news has broken:
now Arrius has crossed the sea, the late
Ionian’s rougher by an aspirate!

(translation James Michie)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Asmenius on the delight of a garden.



In the book `Fifty Latin Lyrics’ by H.W. Franklin I found this poem by a certain Asmenius. He lived at the end of the 4th century, but a research on internet gave no further information: Asmenius is the first Roman writer I have encountered who has no lemma on Wikipedia…
It is a charming poem about the delights of a garden. As for me, I love to sit in my front garden in summer Рwhen you can call 5 m2 a garden Рbut I rather like to drink ros̩ with my neighbour or to bbq with friends, than to cultivate flowers. I have paved it and so now and then I cut the hedge; so far for my gardening. I more enjoy picking flowers from anthologies than picking them from my garden.
In 1596 Jacobus Handi published a setting for 8 voices, but I have been unable to find a recording on internet.

Meter: iambic trimester x - u - x - u - x - u -

Adeste Musae, maximi proles Iovis,
laudem feracis praedicemus hortuli.
Hortus salubris  corpori preabet cibos
variosque fructus saepe cultori refert,
holus suave, multiplex herbae genus,
uvas nitentis atque fetus arborum.
Non defit hortis voluptas maxima
multisque mixta commodis iucunditas,
aquae strepentis vitreus lambit liquor
sulcoque ductus irrigat rivus sata.
Flores nitescunt discolore germine
pinguntque terram gemmeis honoribus.
Apes sussuro murmurant gratae levi,
cum summae florum vel novos rores legunt.
Fecunda vitis coniuges ulmos gravat
textasve  inumbrat pampinis harundines.
Opaca praebent arbores umbracula
prohibentque densis fervidum solem comis.
Aves canorae  garrulous fundunt sonos
et semper auris cantibus mulcent suis.
Oblectat hortus, avocat pascit tenet
animoque maesto demit angores gravis;
membris vigorem reddit at visus capit,
refert labori pleniorem gratiam,
tribuit colenti multiforme gaudium.

proles, is (f): offspring
ferax, acis: fruitful, rich
praedico ( -are): proclaim
saluber  bris bre: healthy (with cibos: salubris = salubres)
cibus: food
praebeo: to provide
cultor, is (m): cultivator
holus, oris (n): kitchen or garden herbs
uva: grape
niteo: to shine (nitentis  = nitentes)
fetus, us (m): produce
defit: a rare form for deficitur, but in this context deficit (lacks) seems more appropriate.
iucunditas, atis (f): delight
commodum: useful thing
strepo ui: to murmur
vitreus: clear
lambo, bi, bitum: to lick, of water: to flow by
sulcus: furrow (sulco: abl. `by means of a furrow’)
sata satorum: crops
rivus: stream
nitesco: inchoative of niteo `to start to shine’, but in practise there is often no difference in meaning between an inchoative verb and the verb it is derived from.
discolour, oris: of various colours
germen, inis (n): bud
pingo pinxi pictum: to paint
gemmeus: like precious stones
honor, oris (m): here: ornament
apis, apis (f): bee
susurrus: whispering
ros, roris (m): dew
lego legi lectum: to choose
Fecunda vitis coniuges ulmos gravat: abundant vine makes heavy its husband elms.
pampinus (f and m): vine-leave
textas harundines intertwined reed (harundo, inis (f): reed)
inumbro: overshadow
opacus: shady, dark
umbraculum: shady place
coma: foliage
canorus: melodious, singing
fundo fudi fusum: to pour
auris = aures
mulceo: to soothe, delight
Oblectat hortus, avocat pascit tenet a garden delights, diverts, satisfies enthrals`’ (H.W. Franklin)
demo dempsi demptum: to take away
angor, oris (m): anguish, trouble
gravis = graves
visus capit `takes the eye’
multiformis: manifold
colo colui cultum: to cultivate



Wall painting of a garden scene with fountain and birds, from Oplontis, first century AD. (VRoma: Barbara McManus)