Of a Latin poem and the curse of mice

A friend recently guided me to a volume of a series which I haven’t looked at for many a year, Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization.   Perhaps the timing was providential, since we are seeing many of the foundations of civilization under attack by demonically goaded ideological fools, mostly ignorant of the past.

In Vol. 4: “The Age of Faith”, Durant has a section on the revival of Latin.  There is a poem in this section which is worthy of attention.

Hildebert of Lavardin (1055? – 1133) is probably not close to the top of your reading list these days.   I must say that Hildebert has got game.

Here is Durant.  We have just read a poem by Peter Damian.  Now…


To Peter Damian poetry was an incident; to Hildebert of Lavardin (1055?-1133), Archbishop of Tours, it was a passion that fought his faith for his soul. Probably from the Berenger of Tours who had studied under Fulbert at Chartres he imbibed a love for the Latin classics. After many tribulations he journeyed to Rome, not sure which he sought more – papal benediction or a sight of the scenes endeared to him by his reading. He was touched by the grandeur and decay of the old capital, and expressed his feelings in classic elegiac form:

Par tibi, Roma, nihil, cum sis prope tota ruina;
quam magni fueris integra fracta doces.
Longa tuos fastus aetas destruxit, et arces
Caesaris et superum templa palude iacent.
Ille labor, labor ille ruit quem dirus Araxes
et stantem tremuit et cecidisse dolet ….
Non tamen annorum series, non flamma, nec ensis
ad plenum potuit hoc abolere decus.*

Here for a moment a medieval poet used the Latin language as nobly as Virgil himself. But once a Christian, always a Christian. Hildebert found more comfort in Jesus and Mary than in Jupiter and Minerva; and in a later poem he impeccably dismissed the ancient shrines:

Gratior haec iactura mihi successibus illis;
maior sum pauper divite, stante iacens.
Plus aquilis vexilla crucis, plus Caesare Petrus,
plus cinctis ducibus vulgus inerme dedit.
Stans domui terras, infernum diruta pulso;
corpora stans, animas fracta iacensque rego.
Tunc miserae plebi, modo principibus tenebrarum
impero; tunc urbes, nunc mea regna polus.†

Not since Fortunatus had any Latin penned such poetry.


Not bad, huh?   Perhaps some of you would like to take a crack at these.  I’ll put the translations by Durant below, but I change the type to white, so that you can work on the Latin on your own.  Don’t peek… unless you don’t know Latin.

Meanwhile, here in this 12th c. MSS of De ciuitate Dei, is an action shot of Hildebert.  The irritated scribe is about to throw something at a mouse or rat (or maybe a cat?) which is nibbling on his cheese. Notice that a bowl is in mid-air falling off the table.

In the manuscript Hildebert is writing we read:

Pessime mus, sepius me provocas ad iram; ut te deus perdat. … Most wicked mouse, you often provoke me to anger. May God destroy you!

* “Equal to you, O Rome! there is nothing, even when you are almost a ruin; how great you were when whole, broken you teach us. Long time has destroyed your pride, and the citadels of Caesar sink in the marshes with the temples of the gods. That work, that mighty work lies low which the dire barbarian trembled to see standing and mourns to see fallen …. But no lapse of years, no fire, no sword can all destroy this glory.”

† (Rome speaks:) “Sweeter to me this defeat than those victories; greater am I poor than when rich, greater prone than standing; more than the eagles has the standard of the cross given me, more Peter than Caesar, more a weaponless crowd than commanders girt with arms. Standing I mastered nations; ruined I strike the depths of the earth; standing I ruled bodies, broken and prostrate I rule souls. Then I commanded a miserable populace, now the princes of darkness; then cities were my realm, now the sky.”

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10 Responses to Of a Latin poem and the curse of mice

  1. Fr. Reader says:

    “Pessime mus, sepius me provocas ad iram… ”
    Useful insult to be used in Twitter.

    [Well done.]

  2. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  3. I have a very Catholic cat I can lend you…

  4. xavier says:

    Father,

    Just for fun,I translated the first poem into Catalan. It’s not a good one as I have my Latin-Catalan dictionary stored somewhere so I used online resouces:

    Roma res sigui igual amb la teva pròpia ruïna quan fores gran ensenyaves les peces a integrar.
    Les teves notes caloroses destruiran i el palustre jau sobre les arques de Cèsar i els temples.
    Aquell treball, aquell treball que precipità que Arades temi .
    I finalment tremolà amunt la caiguda que dolgués
    Tanmateix no s’habia encès mai la flama pendent una sèrie d’anys
    Aqui es pugui abolir deu espais.
    xavier

    [Perhaps you could send a recording of “The Internet Prayer” in Catalan?]

  5. xavier says:

    Father,

    The second poem again in Catalan. I used some dialectal words to be closer to the Latin

    Més grat aquesta pèrdua dels meus èxits els Seus
    millor que sigui el diví pobre mentre jacent
    Pus vexil·la de les àguiles, la creu, Pus Cèsar, Deu
    Pus la cinturó donà al poble desarmat
    Les masies de terra es queden l’infern destruït colpejat
    Els cossos es queden, les ànimes trencats i jagudes regna
    Doncs la misèria del poble es la mode principal que el príncep dels tenebres controla
    Doncs, llavors la ciutat només ara roda el meu regne.

    xavier

  6. Here goes on the first poem:

    Par tibi, Roma, nihil, cum sis prope tota ruina;
    quam magni fueris integra fracta doces.
    Longa tuos fastus aetas destruxit, et arces
    Caesaris et superum templa palude iacent.
    Ille labor, labor ille ruit quem dirus Araxes
    et stantem tremuit et cecidisse dolet ….
    Non tamen annorum series, non flamma, nec ensis
    ad plenum potuit hoc abolere decus.

    Nothing is equal to you, Rome, even when you are nearly a complete ruin;
    How great you were when whole you teach broken up.
    Length of time destroyed your pride, and the citadels
    of Caesar and the temples of the gods lie in the marshes.
    That work of time, that work of time wrecked what the fearful Araxes
    trembled at while it was standing and grieved to topple….
    Yet neither the sequence of years nor fire nor the sword
    could fully obliterate your splendor.

    A beautiful poem–reminds me of Cavafy.

  7. JPCahill says:

    In the illustration I love the pen behind the ear. A thousand or so years later we do the same thing. When not using a keyboard, anyway.

    As for the translation . . . um, oh dear. Seems I’m not quite as brilliant as I thought I was. Will have to risk being crushed by the weight and shift the O.L.D. down from the top shelf.

  8. Now for the second poem (had to take a break to run some errands and do some housecleaning):

    Gratior haec iactura mihi successibus illis;
    maior sum pauper divite, stante iacens.
    Plus aquilis vexilla crucis, plus Caesare Petrus,
    plus cinctis ducibus vulgus inerme dedit.
    Stans domui terras, infernum diruta pulso;
    corpora stans, animas fracta iacensque rego.
    Tunc miserae plebi, modo principibus tenebrarum
    impero; tunc urbes, nunc mea regna polus.†

    Rome is the “I” in this passage–hence the feminine gender:

    To throw away these things is more pleasing to me than those successes I had;
    Poor and lying down, I am greater than when I was rich and standing up.
    The banner of the Cross gave me more than the Roman eagles, Peter more than Caesar,
    and the unarmed common crowd more than their girded commanders.
    Standing, I conquered lands, I drove what I destroyed into the underworld.
    Standing, I ruled over bodies, but broken and lying down I rule over souls.
    Then I commanded a wretched people in the manner of the princes of darkness;
    then my kingdom was cities, but now it is heaven.

  9. xavier says:

    Father

    Sure. I’ll be happy to translate it. Where would you like me to post it?

    xavier

  10. oldCatholigirl says:

    Thank you, Charlotte Allen!
    I have only enough Latin to get a glimpse of the general meaning of each of the two poems. Your translations help me to appreciate the thought more fully–and recognize the succinctness and elegance of the Latin.

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