Gopher tuna. Bring more tuna.

In the 1930’s composer Carl Orff set some mediocre but amusing medieval Latin (mostly) poems, such as drinking and student songs, to music and called the collection Cármina Burána (yes, those are the correct syllables to accentuate, yes, it’s Cármina and not, for all love, Carmína.).  The opening piece of the set is “O Fortuna“, and I am guessing we have all heard it a thousand times.  It is used constantly in films, commercials and the like and the users have not the slightest clue what they are using.

The writer is glossing on … how did Mark Knopfler put it? … sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug.

We are usually the bug, as it turns out, at least according to O Fortuna.

The opening lyrics are:

O Fortuna,
velut Luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem;
dissolvit ut glaciem.
O Fortune,
like the moon
in a changing state,
you always wax
or you wan;
hateful life
is first brutal,
and then fosters
the mind’s keenness in a game;
it melts
power, like ice.
Sors immanis
et inanis,
rota tu volubilis,
status malus,
vana salus
semper dissolubilis;
et velata
mihi quoque niteris;
nunc per ludum
dorsum nudum
fero tui sceleris.
and empty chance/fate,
you are a turning wheel,
your state is dire,
your help empty
always able to dissolve;
and veiled
you press also on me;
now because of your sport,
I bear a bare back
of your evildoing.
Sors salutis
et virtutis
mihi nunc contraria;
est affectus
et defectus
semper in angaria.
hac in hora
sine mora
cordae pulsum tangite!
quod per sortem
sternit fortem,
mecum omnes plangite!
Chance/fate of well-being
and of virtue
is now against me;
there is good will
and disappointment
always servitude (to chance).
In this hour
without delay
strike a chord on the strings!
For, by chance/fate,
it flattens the strong,
Everyone now lament with me!

Someone sent me a link to a video of how the Latin can be…. shall we say… mis-heard.



A different version, mentioned above:


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Maltese says:

    I bear a bare back
    of your evildoing.

    Good stuff!

    I read Belloc’s Metilda to my older children from his book The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts; there is nothing quite like British humor! My children recoil from it, but then want to hear more!

  2. AnAmericanMother says:

    Never had any illusions about this one. From “O Fortuna”, after a brief pastoral idyll, it goes straight downhill and winds up in a roadhouse.
    When I was just a little tyke, the Atlanta Ballet and Atlanta Symphony put on a joint performance. My Mom’s contemporary dance company was recruited for the tavern scene. I vividly recall Mom (who is very tall) and a very short dancer disputing over a bottle as the sort of ladies of the evening you would find in a tavern where there are straw and dogs on the floor.
    Try taking THAT to “show and tell” at an Episcopal grade school!

  3. inara says:

    Saw this the other day on TheCrescat (thought of sending it to you, but figured a gazillion other people probably would) & my kids having been randomly quoting it ever since: “Look there, Fruit Loop!” “Salsa Cookies!” “Send him to North Koreaaaaa!” I don’t think I’ll ever hear it in Latin again. Good of you to warn folks to put down their Mystic Monk…I did not & suffered the consequences.

  4. Volanges says:

    Wow! It’s fascinating how the brain works.

    I watched the video and could distinctly hear everything the misheard lyrics suggested. Then I played the video and looked at the real lyrics and found I couldn’t remember what the misheard lyrics were because the ‘sound’ was so obviously the Latin words that I was seeing.

    I followed that by playing the video and only listening and found that, probably because I don’t know Latin, there was nothing but a jumble of syllables that made no coherent sense to me.

    I’m not really surprised because I’ve listened to songs in Innuaemun (a local aboriginal language) and I usually mishear French words in their lyrics.

  5. J Kusske says:

    I just sang this in April in Beijing and quite enjoyed it, but am not under any illusions on the subject matter. It’s called a “profane cantata” and that about sums it up; quite well-crafted though. It made quite a contrast to doing the Johannes Passion last spring! I think I like Floret Silva the most of the movements, though spitting out all the Latin text in “In Taberna” was the most challenging and therefore perhaps fun…

  6. irishgirl says:

    This is so cool, reading the words (and trying to remember the tune) and finding out what they mean!
    I like Carmina Burana (sorry, no accent marks on this laptop). When I hear ‘O Fortuna’, I end up ‘bopping along’ to the music-can’t help it!
    @ An American Mother: I’m quietly ‘laughing’ to myself here in the library as I read your comment. Oh my goodness….

  7. jameeka says:

    what a juxtaposition ! Your blog constantly surprises me, Father Z.

  8. Mary Jane says:

    Couldn’t see the video unfortunately…YouTube keeps reporting “an error occurred”…bah. But I was once a member of a choir that performed Cármina Burána; I didn’t get to participate in the actual performance as the performance date coincided with me being out of town…but it was a fun piece to sing!

  9. WGS says:

    Cármina Burána – and a serendipitous reinforcement – This morning at the E.F Mass for St. Boniface, the Epistle was from Ecclesiasticus celebrating the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order. There was “et narrántes cármina scriptuárum” with the accents correctly placed. I intend to remember that.

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    It was like something out of Hogarth.
    My kids loved Belloc, and I had to read them so many times that I have several of them committed to memory – “The louder that she shouted, ‘FIRE!’, the more they answered, “Little liar.'” “A fault that everyone abhors/ In little girls is slamming doors.” “Down, Ponto!” became a family catchword.

  11. keithp says:

    Yeah, I had a similar experience with Carmina Burana. When I first heard it, I thought it was beautiful, powerful and high toned. After finally reading the words and their origen, I had my “Oh well moment…”

    Still…. very muched enjoyed the misheard lyrics vid. Very funny and thanks for the tip about not drinking coffee while watching…. very timely indeed.

  12. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    There was an awful Old Spice ad – with a jolly, off-beat Carling Black Label parody of it, which could be said to have tied in the ‘taberna’ (‘pub’, in this case) – as perhaps (in a very different way) did the Carleton beer one, with its cast of thousands (though, alas, with one ‘taking in vain’, and a popular low English adjective apparently derived from reference Our Lady).

    Somebody has also misheard a Stars Wars story in some of the lyrics:
    “Saw,? Saw some wookies! Great Big wookies! They came to Maul Darth Vader! ‘Please don’t eat us!’ They afraid’ us!’ They came to Maul Darth Vader!”

    It might be worth underlining that the manuscript from which Orff (ultimately) drew, and which became more widely-known only after it was taken off to the Court Library of Munich in 1803 – alas, after the monastery where it belonged got ‘secularized’ ! (Benediktbeuren, hence ‘Burana’), also includes what Rene Clemencic calls “Moral and Religious Songs” and “The Lament of the Virgin from the Passion Play” in his recorded selection. (I have read that Philip Pickett has recorded all the musical contributions in the manuscript, but have not heard all his versions, yet.)

  13. RichardC says:

    Very funny video. The Oh Fortuna Misheard Lyrics video was funny too.

  14. germangreek says:

    Well, I do like Mark Knopfler’s music, also.

  15. jaykay says:

    Did this a few times back in my choral society days. Great fun to sing. One time we had a bit of a “diva” as soprano who freely corrected the conductor and everyone else. She really let go in her last aria with the ornamentations, jowls wobbling to the max. She was ever after referred to as La Troutina.

  16. Margaret says:

    This octopus. Let’s give him boots. Send him to North Korea.

    My brother put this on my FB wall over the weekend, and one of my teens has been singing this line over and over since then… :)

  17. Well thanks for the warning to PUT YOUR COFFEE DOWN! Our college concert choir performed Carmina Burana, and O Fortuna was one of my favorites. My cat is now hoping I will take the subliminal suggestion in the first two lines to heart.
    Great stuff!

  18. PostCatholic says:

    I don’t know that the poems are mediocre, or at least, once given the treatment by Orff they ceased so to be. My favorite has long been In Taberna Quando Sumus, which I will admit isn’t the most innovative poetry but I think Orff managed to recover the joy of drinking song, and bishops, priests, monks and deacons all get a shout-out in that one.

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