Daniel Dockery

animî nostrî dêbent interdum âlûcinâri

Home of published musician, recording artist, mathematician, programmer, translator, artist, classicist, and general polymath.

Things from Sappho to call your girlfriend

June 10th, 2017

thoodleoo wrote:

  • ἀστέρων πάντων ὀ κάλλιστος (of all the stars, the fairest)
  • πόλυ πάκτιδος ἀδυμελεστέρα, χρύσω χρυσοτέρα (far sweeter-sounding than the lyre, far more golden than gold)
  • τὰν ἰόκολπον (violet-tressed, one with violets in her lap)
  • ὦ κάλα, ὦ χαρίεσσα κόρα (o beautiful, graceful girl)
  • ἦρος ἄγγελος ἰμερόφωνος ἀήδων (nightingale, sweet-voiced messenger of spring)

“Violet-tressed”? How do they get “tressed” out of that word? “Violets in her lap” also won’t work; the best there would be violet-lapped or having a violet lap, and if that makes no sense, it’s because it’s a mistake. More common is seeing it translated as “circled/girdled in violets”, but that comes from replacing the actual word ἰόκολπον with ἰόζωνον as emendation as if they were the same. It’s a compound word, ἴον + κόλπος, “purple breasts”; swapping out ἰόκολπον with ἰόζωνον allowed them to change it to “girdled with violets”, a trend that seems to’ve gotten its start in the Victorian translation era where they were afraid to to suggest anything vaguely “improper”, like, you know, breasts.

In earlier dictionaries, like the Lexicon Græco-Prosodiacum of Thomas Morell (London, 1824), they were more direct, so that on page 415 of said work,  Ἴοκυλπος is defined as pulchrum pectus habens. That is, “having beautiful breasts.” In support, it cites a fragment of Alcæus, ἄεισον ἄμμι τὰν ἰόκολπον: “I sing of beautiful breasts.” It gives a footnote to the word, for any confused by how a prefix that literally means “purple” is being read as “beautiful”:

Uocem ἴον in hoc composito pro pulchro quodam ac lucido colore accipio: sicuti purpureus apud Latinos fulgentem simul atque albam cycnorum speciem denotat. Tenendum porro in memoria, uiolarum quasdam esse candidas.

That is, “I take the expression ἴον in this compound for something beautiful as well as of a white, as in clear or unblemished, complexion: in the same way purpureus (i.e. ‘purple’) in Latin writings indicates a kind of white swan, and further remembering that uiolarum quasdam (‘something violet’) means to be clear/spotless/white.” A modern Greek etymological work gives [ΕΤΥΜΟΛ. < ἴον + κόλπος «μπούστο»]—where μπούστο is modern Greek for “bust”.

Now, all that said, it’s still a nice thing to say, just remember, your flowery language is actually complimenting her boobs. Compliment away! As the monk Adso of Melk once said, Pulchra sunt ubera!

January 26th, 2013

in hac solitudine careo omnium colloquio, […]. nihil est mihi amicius solitudine. in ea mihi omnis sermo est cum litteris.




In this solitude, I am removed from all dialogue, […]. Nothing is dearer to me than solitude; in it, all my conversation is with literature.

Cicero, Epistulæ ad Atticum, XII.XV, Scr. Asturæ vii Id. Mart. a. 709 (“Letters to Atticus”, 12.15, written in Asturia, March 9, 45 BCE.)

Virgil, Eclogues, IX.51–53

July 14th, 2011

omnia fert ætas, animum quoque: sæpe ego longos
cantando puerum memini me condere soles:
nunc oblita mihi tot carmina;


Time takes away everything, even the mind;
I recall how as a boy I sang away the long days:
now I’ve forgotten all my songs.

Virgil, Eclogues, IX.51–53

The Redemption of Lucifer

May 30th, 2011

AKA Mistranslated Bibles and Errant Theology

[This ramble brought to you by seeing one too many misrepresentations of the Isaian passage, sparked by this morning seeing an anon—ostensibly Christian—troll* citing it while haranguing a [now deleted] Tumblr with farcical “arguments” about the beliefs of anon’s patchwork theopoeia. Hat-tip, Renée. (*Which is just another mangled myth, since traditionally trolls are supposed to eat Christians!)]

As a translator, I am accustomed to encountering passages where someone has slipped in our craft, and I have been as culpable as any; these are sometimes embarrassing, sometimes amusing, but sometimes a translator so misses the mark as to change the entire meaning of a passage and confound those who, unacquainted with the original material, rely on that translation. Perhaps the most pernicious example of this can be found in the “translations” of the Christian editions of the Tanakh‘s book of Isaiah, cap. 14, verse 12, which has endured so long as to become part of their theology.

איך נפלת משמים הילל בן־שחר

How you are fallen from heaven, Hêlēl ben-Šāḥar!

The problem lies in that single bolded phrase, the name Hêlēl ben-Šāḥar. The figure as a whole is most likely a survival from Canaanite myth, and scholars have found parallels in the larger story in that Isaian passage to some of the texts uncovered at Ugarit, such as that of Athtar attempting to usurp the Most High Baal. But the first name, Hêlēl, meaning “bright” or “shining”, was an epithet of the planet Venus rising as the morning star. This was still understood by the translators of the LXX (working between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE in Alexandria):

πῶς ἐξέπεσεν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὁ ἑωσφόρος ὁ πρωὶ ἀνατέλλων

They rendered the name as Heosphoros, the morning star, also classically understood to be Venus, and was discussed as such from Homer to Plato and Hesiod among others, called Ἀφροδίτης ἀστήρ, the star of Aphrodite (whom the Romans called Venus). But nearly 500 years later, when Jerome was commissioned by the 37th pope, Damascus I, to produce the Vulgate Latin “translation” of the canonical Biblical texts, the error arises. For הילל and ἑωσφόρος, he chose to use the Latin lucifer. While הילל is an hapax legomenon and we cannot compare the translations of it in other parts of the text, the more accurate Greek translation appears in six other places in the Tanakh passages of the LXX.

In the first of these, I Samuel 30:17, the Hebrew is מהנשׁף ועד־הערב—”from before sunrise to after sunset”—rendered correctly in the LXX as ἀπὸ ἑωσφόρου ἕως δείλης, but mistakenly rendered by Jerome as a uespere usque ad uesperam, “from evening to evening”.

In Psalm 109:3, “from the dawn” is in Hebrew משׁחר, which the LXX gave as “before dawn”, πρὸ ἑωσφόρου and Jerome gave as “before the morning star”, ante luciferum.

In Job, where we find the largest concentration of this term, the first, in 3:9, is simply dawn, שׁחר in Hebrew, ἑωσφόρον in the LXX, but this time Jerome opted for auroræ, which still means dawn (or the goddess of the dawn). In 11:17, “like the morning” is in Hebrew כבקר, ὥσπερ ἑωσφόρος in the LXX, but here Jerome went back to his other term, with ut lucifer, “as the morning star”. In 38:12, we have dawn again, the Hebrew שׁחר, the LXX‘s ἑωσφόρος, and Jerome vacillates back to aurorae. Finally in 41:10, the Hebrew once more offers שׁחר for dawn, the LXX sticks to ἑωσφόρου and Jerome… came up with yet another word, diluculi. It can still mean dawn, though usually meant the earliest or first rays of sun in the morning.

We can see that the most common term here in the Hebrew is שׁחר, yet for that single term, Jerome offered lucifer, aurora and diluculum (and elsewhere in his text used mane to translate the same word), and is inconsistent even in the use of those. For instance, in Psalm 109:3 he used lucifer for שׁחר, yet in Isaiah 14:12, it is הילל that he translated as lucifer while rendering שׁחר as qui mane oriebaris, “who rose early in the morning”. In Job 11:17, he used lucifer for another term altogether (בקר); in Job 38:32, he “translated” מזרות as lucifer, which seems to be intended for מזלות—the constellations—as used in II Kings 23:5, which Jerome there translated as duodecim signis, the “twelve signs”! The LXX gave the transliterated μαζουρωθ in both places. In Job 38:12, he used both diluculum and aurora in the same passage, writing diluculo for בקר, “morning” (which word he translated as lucifer in Job 11:17) and auroræ for שׁחר. In Job 24:17, he decided בקר could then be… aurora. Elsewhere (Psalm 73:16) he also used aurora to translate the Hebrew word אור (light). Diluculum is easily his favorite of these, however, as it occurs some 41 times in his text, as translations of these Hebrew terms and some others as you might have come to expect.

These are not examples of translating a text’s meaning idiomatically into another language as he varies these terms haphazardly even when the meaning and context remains the same; it’s just bad translation. But the point of this article is to focus more particularly on the consequences of his bad translation, especially as concerns Isaiah 14:12. There, despite having used lucifer in five places in his text, he chose to treat the word in only that one place as a proper name—despite that the context in which he’d used it in every other passage should also make it a proper name in Latin. That is, if not a name, the word only means “light-bringing” and was used in Latin to refer to everything from lightning (lucifera lampade) and meteors (luciferas faces) to the moon, and sometimes, as a feminine adjective, referring to the goddess of the moon, Diana (as Cicero writes in de Natura Deorum, 2.68). But when used in Latin to refer to the morning star, it is a masculine proper noun, the name of a mythological figure who appears in the works of Ovid, Lucretius, Pliny, Propertius, Cicero and many others. Awkwardly, for Jerome, Lucifer the Morning Star was mythologically the son of Aurora, though he seems to use the two synonymously. Lucifer, the Roman god’s myth, was well enough established to root him firmly in the Greek and Roman genealogies. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, XI, 266, we meet Ceyx, king and son of Lucifer, who tells the story of his brother Dædalion. Dædalion had a daughter, Chione, who gave birth to a son, Autolycus, by the god Mercury. In Homer’s Odyssey, we find Odysseus the son of Anticleia, the daughter of that same Autolycus, making the hero Odysseus the great-great-great grandson of Lucifer. Which is simply to say, each time Jerome used Lucifer as a translation of the morning star, it should have been a personification, and not just in the one place.

The problem is not just one of vocabulary but interpretation, as it seems clear Jerome, if not the whole early (and subsequent) church, misunderstood the meaning of the entire passage. The original is an allegorical reference to the predicted fall of the King of Babylon, casting him in the role of the mythological figure of Hêlēl, and yet, for some reason, Jerome and the early church fathers, perhaps, particularly Tertullian and Origen, have tried to make the passage out to be about their imaginary devil, and Jerome’s choice to personify this one reference has had the consequence of creating the immense error that “Lucifer” is the name of “the devil”! They seem to choose to ignore the significance of the other occurrences of “lucifer” in the text, including, singificantly, in Jerome’s version of the Christian “New Testament” books, for he uses it in II Peter 1:19, where they talk of the time when the morning star will rise in their hearts as if it’s a good thing—yet Jerome, correctly for once, translates the Greek φωσφόρος as lucifer: donec dies inlucescat et lucifer oriatur in cordibus uestris, “until the day dawns and Lucifer rises in your hearts”. (Ἑωσφόρος and φωσφόρος were synonymous, both being translated as lucifer by the Romans; e.g., in Apollodorus’ Library, I.7.4, “Ἀλκυόνην δὲ Κῆυξ ἔγημεν Ἑωσφόρου παῖς“—Alcyone was married by Ceyx, son of Lucifer—Ἑωσφόρος was used, while in Cicero, de Natura Deorum, 2.53, we find stella Ueneris, quæ Φωσφόρος Græce Lucifer Latine dicitur, “the star of Venus, which is called by the Greeks Phosphorus is Lucifer in Latin”.)

Mythologically, Lucifer’s a nice fellow; he heralds the new day, ushers the darkness away, and helps the lost find their way back home. So, Christians, you’ve been picking on and blaming the wrong guy for nearly two thousand years. Isn’t it time you leave him alone and get your own Bible right?

The silent friendship of the moon

April 21st, 2011

In Borges’ “La cifra” and the obverse of his “Poema“, both translated here earlier, the poet refers to Virgil. In the “Poem”, among the things brought with the hexameters of Virgil’s Æneid is “[l]a amistad de la luna“, “the friendship of the moon”, and “La cifra” opens with “[l]a amistad silenciosa de la luna / (cito mal a Virgilio)“, “the silent friendship of the moon / (I misquote Virgil)”.

He is making reference to line 255 in the second book of the Æneid, from the scene where the Greeks slip out from the Trojan horse to sack the city of Troy, making their way “tacitæ per amica silentia lunæ“, “unnoticed through the friendly silence of the moon”.

Borges’ interest seems only in the expression quite abstracted from the story’s context through his own fondness for the moon as evidenced in many of his other works. He returns to the expression many times. In his brief essay on Dante’s Purgatorio, I.13 (from Nueve ensayos dantescos [1982]), he refers again to “el famoso hexámetro de La Eneida: «a Tenedo, tacitæ per amica silentia lunæ»” (“the famous hexameter from The Æneid: «from Tenedos, unnoticed through the friendly silence of the moon»”), comparing to it verse 60 of canto I of Dante’s Infierno, “mi ripigneva là dove ‘l sol tace“—”pushed me there where the sun is silent”.

In Borges’ defence, though he needs none, his misquotation isn’t as severe as that perpetrated by José Lezama Lima in Paradiso: “Pero con esperada frecuencia volvíamos al ternario, a unir sol, tierra y luna, aunque yo casi siempre me inclinaba a la luna silentiæ amicæ.” (In Gregory Rabassa’s translation, this reads “But with expected frequency we returned to the ternary, to unite sun, earth and moon, although I almost always leaned toward the silent friendship of the moon”, though his translation is incorrect for the Latin.)

Shawshank Epictetus

January 17th, 2011

οὐκ οἶδας, ὅτι καὶ νόσος καὶ θάνατος καταλαβεῖν ἡμᾶς ὀφείλουσίν τί ποτε ποιοῦντας; τὸν γεωργὸν γεωργοῦντα καταλαμβάνουσι, τὸν ναυτικὸν πλέοντα. σὺ τί θέλεις ποιῶν καταληφθῆναι; τί ποτε μὲν γὰρ ποιοῦντά σε δεῖ καταληφθῆναι. εἴ τι ἔχεις τούτου κρεῖσσον ποιῶν καταληφθῆναι, ποίει ἐκεῖνο.

Ἐπίκτητος, Αρριανου των Επικτητου Διατριβων, III.5,
“Πρὸς τοὺς διὰ νόσον ἀπαλλαττομένους”.

Don’t you know that both sickness and death must eventually surprise us, no matter what we’re doing? They’ll surprise the farmer in his field, the sailor at sea. What do you want to be doing when they come for you? For make no mistake, you will be overtaken. If you have anything better to do before then, get to work on that.

Epictetus, Discourses, book III, letter 5.

Or, to use the paraphrase from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ καλὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ

January 22nd, 2010

Τίς δὲ βὶος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσέης Ἀφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοὶ μηχέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
χρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή.
ἄνθεα τῆς ἥβης γίγνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπὴν δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθῃ
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ καλὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ.
αἰεὶ μὲν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγας προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν.
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Mimnermus (c. 625 BCE), first fragment

 

What life or delight exists without love?
Let me die when I’ve no more interest
in quiet trysts, tender gifts or the marriage bed.
These are the alluring blossom of youth
for men and women, but when arduous age approaches,
which makes a man ugly and useless,
awful anxieties wear always on his mind:
he takes no delight in sunlight;
he’s abhorred by children; by women, scorned.
How grievous a thing has god made old age.

2010/01/21

Catullus: “How many kisses?”

November 3rd, 2009

quæris, quo mihi basiationes
tuæ, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssæ harenæ
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iouis inter æstuosi
et Batti ueteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtiuos hominum uident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
uesano satis et super Catullo est,
quæ nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

G. Valerius Catullus (84–54 BCE), carmen VII

Translated:

You ask how many of your kisses, love,
would be enough—or more!—for me?
As many as the grains of Libyan sand
lying along silphium-bearing Cyrene
between the oracle of sweltering Jove
and the sacred sepulchre of old Battus;
or as many as the quiet night’s stars
which see the secret loves of men:
to kiss you with that many kisses
might be enough to sate your mad lover!
So many that the curious cannot count
nor evil tongues disdain them.

Happy birthday, Gabriela!

Oration on the “Dignity” of Man—no, not that one

December 19th, 2007

Inspired by an old post of the Laudator temporis acti which I ran across today, I thought I’d take a moment to share a bit of hope and cheerful optimism from the ancient world concerning the role and state of man.

Palladas, ever a charmer, left a bit of verse that’s come down to us in the Greek Anthology (X, 45), known generally as “The Descent of Man”. Frustrated by the vain puffings of fellow humans of his own time on the topic of the majesty of man, he sought to recall to mind a few details so often forgotten by them, or seemingly so:

Ἄν μνήμην, ἄνθρωπε, λάβῃς ὁ πατήρ σε τί ποιῶν
    ἔσπειρεν, παύσῃ τῆς μεγαοφροσύνης.
ἀλλ᾽ ὁ Πλάτων σοὶ τῦφον ὀνειρώσσων ἐνέφυσεν,
    ἀθάνατόν σε λέγων καὶ φυτὸν οὐράνιον.
ἐκ πηλοῦ γέγονας· τί φρονεῖς μέγα; τοῦτο μὲν οὕτως
    εἶπ’ ἄν τις, κοσμῶν πλάσματι σεμνοτέρῳ.
εἰ δὲ λόγον ζητεῖς τὸν ἀληθινόν, ἐξ ἀκολάστου
    λαγνείας γέγονας καὶ μιαρᾶς ῥανίδος.

 

If you would recall, o man,
just how your father sowed you,
you’d bridle your vain pride.

Yet the dreamer Plato’s deception
has taken root in you,
calling you immortal,
a heavenly plant.

“You come from dirt;
how are you proud?”
So one might ask,
arranging the figure more pompously.

But if you seek the truth,
you were begotten
of unbridled lust
and an unclean drop.

But he was hardly the first to say or think it. A couple of centuries or so before him, Aurelius (Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, βιβλίον δʹ, μηʹ, δʹ; c. 174/180) quipped,

ἀεὶ τὰ ἀνθρώπινα ὡς ἐφήμερα καὶ εὐτελῆ καὶ ἐχθὲς μὲν μυξάριον, αὔριον δὲ τάριχος ἢ τέφρα.

Human (lives) are always cheap and ephemeral: yesterday, a little ejaculate; tomorrow, embalming or ashes.

In roughly the same time period, a passage of similar nature appeared in the Mishnah tractate, Pirké Avot,

עקביא בן מהללאל אומר, “הסתכל בשלשה דברים ואין אתה בא לידי עברה.” (א) דע מאין באת, (ב) ולאן אתה הולך, (ג) ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון.

מאין באת? מטפה סרוחה

ולאן אתה הולך? למקום עפר רמה ותולעה

ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון? לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא

פרקי אבות, ג׃א

 

Akavya ben Mahalal’el used to say, “Reflect on three things and you will escape the hand of sin.” (1) Know where you came from; (2) know where you are going; and (3) know in whose presence you will have to make an accounting.

Where do you come from? An unclean drop.

Where are you going? To dust, worms and maggots.

To whom shall you make a reckoning? To the King of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.

Pirké Avot, 3:1

Seneca

March 26th, 2005

Seneca, de Tranquillitate Animi (“On the tranquility of the mind”), XVII.8–11:

Indulgendum est animo dandumque subinde otium, quod alimenti ac uirium loco sit. Et in ambulationibus apertis uagandum, ut cælo libero et multo spiritu augeat attollatque se animus; aliquando uectatio iterque et mutata regio uigorem dabunt, conuictusque et liberalior potio. Nonnumquam et usque ad ebrietatem ueniendum, non ut mergat nos, sed ut deprimat: eluit enim curas et ab imo animum mouet et, ut morbis quibusdam, ita tristitiæ medetur, Liberque non ob licentiam linguæ dictus est inuentor uini, sed quia liberat seruitio curarum animum et asserit uegetatque et audaciorem in omnes conatus facit. Sed, ut libertatis, ita uini salubris moderatio est. Solonem Arcesilanque indulsisse uino eredunt; Catoni ebrietas obiecta est: facilius efficient crimen honestum quam turpem Catonem. Sed nec sæpe faciendum est, ne animus malam consuetudinem ducat, et aliquando tamen in exsultationem libertatemque extrahendus tristisque sobrietas remouenda paulisper. Nam, siue græco pœtæ credimus, “aliquando et insanire iucundum est”; siue Platoni, “frustra pœticas fores compos sui pepulit”; siue Aristoteli, “nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiæ fuit”. Non potest grande aliquid et super ceteros loqui nisi mota mens. Cum uulgaria et solita contempsit instinctuque sacro surrexit excelsior, tunc demum aliquid cecinit grandius ore mortali. Non potest sublime quicquam et in arduo positum contingere, quamdiu apud se est: desciscat oportet a solito et efferatur et mordeat frenos et rectorem rapiat suum, eoque ferat quo per se timuisset escendere.

Translation:

We must treat the mind kindly and frequently give it rest, which serves the purpose of food and strength: and we must indulge in outdoor rambles, that the mind may become stronger and be elevated under the open sky and in the fresh air. Sometimes riding, travel, a change of country, a social meal and more liberal drinking will give us strength; sometimes we ought to come even to the point of drunkenness, not for the purpose of drowning ourselves, but of sublimating ourselves deep in wine. For it washes away cares and raises our spirits from the lowest depths, and is a remedy for sadness as also for certain diseases. The inventor of wine is called Liber, not because of the freedom of speaking which comes through him, but because he frees the soul from the servitude of cares, releases it from slavery, quickens it, and makes it bolder for all undertakings. But moderation is wholesome both in freedom and in wine. Men believe that Solon and Arcesilaus were addicted to wine. Drunkenness is charged to Cato: yet whoever shall reproach him with this will more easily prove that this crime is honorable than that Cato was base. But it must not be done often lest the mind contract a bad habit, and yet sometimes it ought to be drawn into exultation and freedom, and gloomy sobriety ought to be case aside for a short time. For whether we believe the Greek poet, ‘it is sometimes even pleasant to be mad,’ or Plato, ‘he who is master of himself has knocked in vain at the doors of poetry;’ or Aristotle, ‘there is no great genius without a mixture of madness;’ the mind cannot express anything lofty and above the ordinary unless inspired. When it despises the common and the customary, and with sacred inspiration rises higher, then at length it sings something grander than that which can come from mortal lips. It cannot attain anything sublime and lofty so long as it is sane: it must depart from the customary, swing itself aloft, take the bit in its teeth, carry away its rider and bear him to a height whither he would have feared to ascend alone.

Daniel Dockery

animî nostrî dêbent interdum âlûcinâri

Home of published musician, recording artist, mathematician, programmer, translator, artist, classicist, and general polymath.