Thursday, May 27, 2010

Si Potes, Et Debes

Juvenal has always been one of my favourite Latin poets, even if his style isn't quite as polished as that of the Golden Age giants. I think part of the reason why his Satires have always appealed to me is that their depiction of the dirty realities of life in the Roman world represents a good counterpoint to the tales of love, adventure and past wars favoured by Virgil, Ovid et al.

The most famous of the Satires are undoubtedly the third, a brilliantly vivid portrait of the decadence of Rome, and the tenth, a memorable declamation on the topic of "be careful what you wish/pray for". Extracts from both of those masterpieces, by the way, will undoubtedly feature in future posts. But I have a real soft spot for the lesser-known fifth, a mordant tragi-comic tale of a poor client's degrading experience at a dinner given by a rich patron.

All sorts of petty humiliations are suffered by the client, for whom the invitation to dinner is, as Juvenal mentions early in the piece, votorum summa - his prayers come true, essentially. Juvenal's hero, a certain Trebius, drinks inferior wine, cracks his teeth on inedible bread, and even suffers indignities at the hands of the rich man's slaves, who welcome the chance to finally wield power over someone.

The satire, however, contains a nasty twist right at the end, and here is where the title of this post comes in. One expects Juvenal to finish off with a final tirade directed at the heartless patron, Virro. But no; he has already chided him earlier in the poem, using the perfectly chosen words cenes civiliter. Instead, Juvenal turns on Trebius, saying what a hopeless fool he is to suffer all this. Cruel it may be, but it makes for a superbly effective and unexpected ending. The nub of Juvenal's message is contained in a brief but striking phrase which runs across a line break: omnia ferre / si potes, et debes. "If you can cope with all of this (all the aforementioned humiliations)...then you deserve to!" The message, or part of it, is: have some self-respect.

It is the unexpected et debes which makes this such a memorable aphorism. A poor cliens might see these insults to his dignity as necessary evils on the path to social advancement, but Juvenal destroys these pretensions completely in his final lines. There will be no social advancement, no chance to gain the rich man's favour: he's taking you for a ride, and enjoying your distress. Here are the last eight lines of the poem, including the phrase quoted above, with some brief notes:

spes bene cenandi vos decipit. 'ecce dabit iam
semesum leporem atque aliquid de clunibus apri,
ad nos iam veniet minor altilis.' inde parato
intactoque omnes et stricto pane tacetis.
ille sapit, qui te sic utitur. omnia ferre
si potes, et debes. pulsandum vertice raso
praebebis quandoque caput nec dura timebis
flagra pati, his epulis et tali dignus amico.

(Juvenal, Satires, V.166-173)

"The hope of a good dinner tricks you. 'Here, soon enough he'll give us a half-eaten hare, or something from the rump of a boar, soon enough a smaller fowl [sc. smaller than the one the host is eating] will come down to us.' And then you all sit in silence with untouched and cut bread at the ready. He has sense, to treat you like this. If you can cope with all of this...then you deserve to. The time will come when you'll offer up your bald head to be beaten, and you won't be afraid of receiving a harsh're worthy of this kind of banquet, and this kind of friend."

Line 166: the quotation belongs to Trebius, still vainly hoping for some decent food, and the ending of the previous sentence at the start of the fifth foot creates a bucolic diaeresis, which serves to emphasise the content of the first four feet, which here constitutes another aphorism of sorts. The repetition of "iam" in lines 166 and 168 gives a poignant if pathetic touch to Trebius's hopes: "any moment now, any moment now" he'll get some proper fare. But, of course, he never does.
169: this line is a superb example of the unexpected ending, or paraprosdokian (παρα προσδοκιαν), so common in Greek Old Comedy. Everyone is waiting with a ready (parato)...untouched (intacto)...and drawn (stricto)...surely it must be a sword (the most common article described as "strictus"), to attack the patron? No, instead it's the bread (pane) left until the end of the line, which is not "drawn" but "cut", and suddenly the image of a righteous rebellion instead becomes another scene of teeth-gritting with inedible food on the plate.
170: "ille...utitur" is followed by another bucolic diaeresis, again accentuating the earlier sentence. "utitur" contains a clever pun: the word is commonly used to refer to domestic hospitality, but of course the prime meaning of the word is to use...and the gormless clients have been used, well and truly, by their patron. Even "sapit" has a subtle double meaning: of course, it means "he is clever", but the original sense of sapere is to have flavour...and of course it is the rich patron who is sampling all the flavour of the dinner, while his "guests" miss out.
171-3: the physical humiliations described here would be suffered by the morio, the traditional clown and butt of jokes who endured beatings for the amusement of the guests at a Roman party. The implications about Trebius's role at this party are obvious.
173: two final richly ironic comments on the situation. "dignus" can simply mean "worthy of", but it can also imply a sense of independent dignity...and this is exactly what Trebius has been robbed of. And the final word of the satire, "amico", implies just what Trebius has let himself in for. No doubt he has boasted of having this rich patron as "a friend", and perhaps to his way of thinking the friendship has been cemented by his invitation to a fancy dinner. But no, he has in fact become the entertainment, by allowing his host to enjoy his desperate frustration. And so Juvenal's final comment is: if you court such "friends", then you deserve them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Exoriare Aliquis Ultor

If there is one book of the Aeneid which best exemplifies the great power and pathos of Virgil's masterwork, it is probably Book 4, the tragedy-within-an-epic which sees Dido, queen of the nascent city of Carthage, abandoned by Aeneas after she has fallen hopelessly in love with him.

The book contains numerous memorable episodes, including Dido's heartfelt confession of her love to her loyal sister Anna, the "secret marriage" of Aeneas and Dido in a cave during a storm, Aeneas's cold, almost politician-like defence of his conduct once Dido learns of his imminent departure, and finally Dido's fiery imprecation of doom on Aeneas's descendants. It is in this final passage that perhaps my all-time favourite line of Latin poetry can be found: exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor. "May you arise from my bones, you unknown avenger." Dido speaking to the future Hannibal.

The line is superbly effective, on a number of counts. First there is the alliteration of the "s" sounds (including in the preposition "ex", which is really "ecs", after all): we can almost imagine Dido hissing the line in fury. Then the bookending of the line with the key idea: "exoriare...ultor", with the delaying of "ultor" being particularly striking.

But then something that I haven't seen any commentators mention: the brilliant choice of the form exoriare over other possible forms, namely the imperative exorere or the third person jussive subjunctive exoriatur, both of which would be possible metrically ("exorere ille aliquis...", or "exoriatur acer nostris..." would be two possible alternate lines). Why has Virgil chosen the odd second person jussive subjunctive?

Because, in my view, it captures Dido's mood perfectly. It is not so much a jussive subjunctive as a wish, almost a prayer. Yet Dido feels impelled to address her avenger in person, to cry across the centuries to him. So then, for the purpose of conveying both these ideas, the second person subjunctive is a paradoxical but perfect choice.

The rest of the passage, with some brief comments:

tum vos, o Tyrii, stirpem et genus omne futurum
exercete odiis, cinerique haec mittite nostro
munera. nullus amor populis nec foedera sunto.
exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor
qui face Dardanios ferroque sequare colonos,
nunc, olim, quocumque dabunt se tempore vires.
litora litoribus contraria, fluctibus undas
imprecor, arma armis: pugnent ipsique nepotesque.

(Virgil, Aeneid IV, 622-629)

"Then as for you, Tyrians, harass his offspring and all his people to come with your hatred, and give me this as your gift to my ashes. Let there be no affection between the two peoples and no treaties. May you arise from my bones, you unknown avenger, to persecute the Trojan settlers with fire and sword, now, some time in the future, whenever you have the strength to do so. I call upon shore to fight against shore, waves against waves, weapons against weapons: let they and their descendants be at war."

A passage of shuddering effect, in which:

Line 623: the enjambed "exercete odiis", placed just before the main caesura for particular effect, encapsulates the point of the earlier phrase. And the Trojans are not to be harassed with anything physical in particular; it is "hatred" which will provide whatever weapons are required.
624: another brilliant enjambment, "munera", rich in irony. Instead of a funeral gift of the usual type, the Tyrians' gift to Dido will be the undying hatred of Aeneas's descendants. The use of the word helps to show just how deeply consumed by ungovernable anger Dido has become. The use of the semi-archaic form "sunto" gives her imprecation a prayer-like quality.
625 we know all about.
627: the asyndeton of "nunc, olim, quocumque...tempore" gives the effect of desperation, while also underlining the idea of an eternal, unconditional hatred.
628: more asyndeton, plus the personification of the shores, the waters, and the weapons, which gives the line(s) a truly chilling character: Dido expects her spurned love to set even the regions inhabited by her enemies eternally at odds. Highly ambitious in her fury, one might say.
629: the polysyndeton at the end of the line, which involves the hypermetric elision (a lovely term, which sounds like it should refer to a collision between spaceships) of "nepotesque", helps to join the two races in the reader/listener's mind as forever linked in some battle to the death.

Hell hath no fury, indeed. A bruisingly powerful curse and a superb culmination of the events of Book 4.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Welcome to ars latet arte, a blog written by a lapsed Latin teacher now returned to the faith.

There are plenty of Classics blogs out there, including David Meadows' superbly comprehensive Rogue Classicism, Michael Gilleland's always engaging Laudator Temporis Acti, and more recently my friend and colleague Joel Morrison's enjoyable Audio Video Disco. This one is intended solely to share my love of Latin literature, and it's worth a few paragraphs to explain why I'm starting it.

One of the first questions asked of a new acquaintance in social situations is the inevitable "So, what do". Most answers evoke a knowing "Ahh!" followed by the usual platitudes about how interesting an industry that must be, how much respect the questioner has for the profession, etc., etc. For most of my adult life, I have been forced to answer "I teach Latin", although I usually adopt the sly cop-out of "I teach languages" (I have taught Classical Greek and French as well, you see, not to mention English), only allowing my interlocutor to elicit the Latin bit on further questioning.

At any rate, when the L-word surfaces, the reaction is generally not an "Ahh!" but an "Oh", with a vaguely questioning intonation. "They still teach that these days?!?" is the traditional continuation.

"Erm, yeah, at a few schools," I reply.

Then, in most cases, my unlettered interlocutor either gently or brusquely (depending on their character) brings up the delicate matter of why on earth it's still worth studying a dead language. The ensuing catechism is one I've refined carefully over the years. In point form, it goes something like this: studying Latin...

* Broadens one's knowledge of the English language,
* Provides a wonderful foundation for learning French, Italian, Spanish, etc.,
* Serves as an introduction to the fascinating world of Roman history and culture,
* Et cetera et cetera blah blah blah.

All of these are cogent arguments (especially the et cetera one), and more or less convincing whenever I'm put on the spot. But for me there is another reason, one which, admittedly, doesn't become apparent until one has studied the language long enough to have a reasonable understanding of authentic texts. The world of Latin literature, but in my view Latin verse especially, is a source of great pleasure and no little inspiration.

Most modern poetry doesn't appeal to me at all: the trend towards free verse and deliberate obscurity has robbed it of its music, to a large extent. And music is a key idea for me: the strict metrical requirements of Latin verse, while limiting in some respects, allow the ideas to be expressed with a rhythmic power largely absent from contemporary verse. And the wonderfully loose and fluid nature of Latin word order allows for an endless variety of juxtapositions, puns, enjambments, and above all surprises.

In the hands of a real master of the craft, like Ovid or Virgil, Latin poetry (at the risk of sounding dreadfully pretentious) reaches magnificent heights while appearing effortless. And that leads us to the title of the blog, a paraphrase of a brilliant quip from Ovid, referring to the mythical ideal-woman-statue created by the mythical Pygmalion: ars adeo latet arte sua.

As with all good epigrams, an exact translation of this is impossible. The nub of the phrase is a typical piece of Ovidian wordplay, in which the multiple meanings of the word ars ("art", "artistry", "skill", "craft", "cleverness") are incorporated into a beguiling comment on the nature of great art. The closest I can get to the spirit of the original is "The skill is so deeply hidden in its own artistry." So much so that when the finished product emerges, we don't see the immense skill involved in creating a compelling collection of hexameter lines - we merely see the artistry.

This blog is dedicated to that artistry, but my intention is to point out the skill as well, as far as I'm able.

Each post (from now on) will consist of a brief passage of Latin verse, with a rough English translation followed by a look at the skill that goes into making the art. Of course, I'm hoping that such an approach will be of use to students like my own (those in the senior years of high school, or university undergraduates), but even if you don't come for instruction, I hope that some of you will come for pure enjoyment...the same enjoyment that I get from reading, and particularly from teaching, great Latin literature.

To start off with, then, that phrase from Ovid again, in its broader context:

interea niveum mira feliciter arte
sculpsit ebur formamque dedit, qua femina nasci
nulla potest, operisque sui concepit amorem.
virginis est verae facies, quam vivere credas,
et, si non obstet reverentia, velle moveri:
ars adeo latet arte sua. miratur et haurit
pectore Pygmalion simulati corporis ignes.

(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.247-255).

"Meanwhile, he [Pygmalion] successfully sculpted a white ivory statue with marvellous skill, and gave it a shape which no mortal woman can emulate, and fell in love with his own creation. It was the face of a true maiden, and you would think it was alive...and wanted, if modesty did not forbid, to be wooed. The skill is so deeply hidden in its own artistry. Pygmalion stares, and drinks in the fires of love for his pretend-body."

The English, as always, can only give you a hint of the brilliance of the Latin, in which:

Line 247: Ovid plays on the meaning of "feliciter" - "happily", and "luckily", as the statue does eventually come to life, but also "successfully". And "mira" grammatically agrees with "arte", but it is the statue itself that is really "wonderful" - a hint of hypallage.
249: "nulla" is placed at the beginning of the line to drive home the point that this is a maiden like no other...supple Latin word order to the rescue again.
250: the alliteration of the "v" sounds throughout the line is traditionally associated in Latin poetry with vividness and vigour (pardon the pun), which is splendidly appropriate here given that we're dealing with a statue that comes to life.
251: Another Ovidian pun with "moveri": the statue wants "to be moved", which can be construed either physically or emotionally (and the ambiguity, I feel, is exactly what Ovid wants).

252 we've already dealt with.
253: "haurit...ignes" - a striking image (although not a unique one in Latin verse), "drinking in the fires", which is almost an oxymoron. But the hint of Pygmalion being "drunk on love" is underlined by the emphatic positioning (at the end of the respective lines) of both "haurit" and "ignes".

This, then, is the intended format of ars latet arte. Being a family man with a young child (like my friend Joel), I won't be able to contribute to the blog all that often; once a week is my aim. I run another blog dedicated to my other great obsession, the game of football (that's soccer, folks), and I fully intend for that one to continue as well. In any case, I hope you'll find the occasional posts here enjoyable, informative, useful, or a combination of all three.

Until next time...