Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas – an addendum

Another to yesterday’s list of translations – Helen Waddell’s rendering of Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas from her Mediaeval Latin Lyrics:

Delight of lust is gross and brief
And weariness treads on desire.
Not beasts are we, to rush on it,
Love sickens there, and dies the fire.
But in eternal holiday,
Thus, thus, lie still and kiss the hours away.
No weariness is here, no shamefastness,
Here is, was, shall be, all delightsomeness.
And here no end shall be,
But a beginning everlastingly.

Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas

Today, a comparison of translations and adaptations, plus a possible personal cryptomnesiac cribbing. I started The Complete Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (ed. David Vieth) earlier and ran across an adaptation of one of Petronius’s more memorable poems.

First, Petronius’ original (poem 28 in the Loeb text) with the Loeb rendering and – since the Loeb’s is more meh than normal – my own five minute effort afterwards. Neither effort does near justice to the playfully allusive legerdemain of the original but together they can give some idea (and, incidentally, I believe there’s a new Loeb edition of Petronius scheduled for later this year so maybe that one will improve the situation).

Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas
et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
Non ergo ut pecudes libidinosae
caeci protinus irruamus illuc
(nam languescit amor peritque flamma);
sed sic sic sine fine feriati
et tecum iaceamus osculantes.
Hic nullus labor est ruborque nullus:
hoc iuvit, iuvat et diu iuvabit;
hoc non deficit incipitque semper.

The pleasure of the act of love is gross and brief, and love once consummated brings loathing after it. Let us then not rush blindly thither straightway like lustful beasts, for love sickens and the flame dies down; but even so, even so, let us keep eternal holiday, and lie with thy lips to mine. No toil is here and no shame: in this, delight has been, and is, and long shall be; in this there is no diminution, but a beginning everlastingly.

Filthy and brief is the pleasure taken in sex
and passion carried to its end straightaway disgusts.
And so let us not like rutting beasts
blind and headlong rush to the end
(for desire withers and the flame dies);
But let us lie like this, just like this,
playing idly without end and kissing.
Here is no exertion and no reason to turn red:
This has pleased, does please, and long will please;
This does not cease and ever is just beginning.

Now Ben Jonson’s translation – which I remembered existed but haven’t read in years, similarity of final lines notwithstanding:

Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay.
But thus, thus, keeping endless holiday,
Let us together closely lie and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleased, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.

And finally, John Wilmot’s adaptation – which carries the improbable title ‘The Platonic Lady

I could love thee till I die,
Would’st thou love me modestly,
And ne’er press, whilst I live,
For more than willingly I would give:
Which should sufficient be to prove
I’d understand the art of love.

I hate the thing is called enjoyment:
Besides it is a dull employment,
It cuts off all that’s life and fire
From that which may be termed desire;
Just like the bee whose sting is gone
Converts the owner to a drone.

I love a youth will give me leave
His body in my arms to wreathe;
To press him gently, and to kiss;
To sigh, and look with eyes that wish
For what, if I could once obtain,
I would neglect with flat disdain.

I’d give him liberty to toy
And play with me, and count it joy.
Our freedom should be full complete,
And nothing wanting but the feat.
Let’s practice, then, and we shall prove
These are the only sweets of love.


I do not know the French for fer, and ferret, and firk

From Henry V (4.4)

SCENE IV. The field of battle.
Alarum. Excursions. Enter PISTOL, French Soldier, and Boy

PISTOL
Yield, cur!

French Soldier
Je pense que vous etes gentilhomme de bonne qualite.

PISTOL
Qualtitie calmie custure me! Art thou a gentleman?
what is thy name? discuss.

French Soldier
O Seigneur Dieu!

PISTOL
O, Signieur Dew should be a gentleman:
Perpend my words, O Signieur Dew, and mark;
O Signieur Dew, thou diest on point of fox,
Except, O signieur, thou do give to me
Egregious ransom.

French Soldier
O, prenez misericorde! ayez pitie de moi!

PISTOL
Moy shall not serve; I will have forty moys;
Or I will fetch thy rim out at thy throat
In drops of crimson blood.

French Soldier
Est-il impossible d’echapper la force de ton bras?

PISTOL
Brass, cur!
Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat,
Offer’st me brass?
French Soldier

O pardonnez moi!

PISTOL
Say’st thou me so? is that a tun of moys?
Come hither, boy: ask me this slave in French
What is his name.

Boy
Ecoutez: comment etes-vous appele?

French Soldier
Monsieur le Fer.

Boy
He says his name is Master Fer.

PISTOL
Master Fer! I’ll fer him, and firk him, and ferret
him: discuss the same in French unto him.

Boy
I do not know the French for fer, and ferret, and firk.

PISTOL
Bid him prepare; for I will cut his throat.

French Soldier
Que dit-il, monsieur?

Boy
Il me commande de vous dire que vous faites vous
pret; car ce soldat ici est dispose tout a cette
heure de couper votre gorge.

PISTOL
Owy, cuppele gorge, permafoy,
Peasant, unless thou give me crowns, brave crowns;
Or mangled shalt thou be by this my sword.

French Soldier
O, je vous supplie, pour l’amour de Dieu, me
pardonner! Je suis gentilhomme de bonne maison:
gardez ma vie, et je vous donnerai deux cents ecus.

PISTOL
What are his words?

Boy
He prays you to save his life: he is a gentleman of
a good house; and for his ransom he will give you
two hundred crowns.

PISTOL
Tell him my fury shall abate, and I the crowns will take.

French Soldier
Petit monsieur, que dit-il?

Boy
Encore qu’il est contre son jurement de pardonner
aucun prisonnier, neanmoins, pour les ecus que vous
l’avez promis, il est content de vous donner la
liberte, le franchisement.

French Soldier
Sur mes genoux je vous donne mille remercimens; et
je m’estime heureux que je suis tombe entre les
mains d’un chevalier, je pense, le plus brave,
vaillant, et tres distingue seigneur d’Angleterre.

PISTOL
Expound unto me, boy.

Boy
He gives you, upon his knees, a thousand thanks; and
he esteems himself happy that he hath fallen into
the hands of one, as he thinks, the most brave,
valorous, and thrice-worthy signieur of England.

PISTOL
As I suck blood, I will some mercy show.
Follow me!

Boy
Suivez-vous le grand capitaine.

Sus cum Minerva certamen suscepit

Erasmus Adagia 41:

Sus cum Minerva certamen suscepit
A pig undertakes a contest with Minerva


The same or at least as close as possible to this is found in Theocritus’ Idylls.

Ὗς ποτ᾽ Ἀθηναίαν ἔριν ἤρισε
A pig once challenged Athena to a quarrel

It is said whenever the ignorant and dull-witted, ready to fight, are not afraid to challenge men of the highest learning in a literary competition. Theocritus commentator writes that the phrase is commonly used thus: Ὗς ὢν πρὸς Ἀθήνην ἐρίζεις (though a pig, you quarrel with Athena). Some scholiast adds that ἐρίζειν is used for those who compete with words and ἐρείδειν for those who compete with deeds – which makes it all the more laughable, if an unteachable pig competes with Minerva, the guardian of studies.

Cum hoc aut idem aut certe quam maxime finitimum, quod apud Theocritum
legitur in Hodoeporis:

Ὗς ποτ᾽ Ἀθηναίαν ἔριν ἤρισε, id est
Cum diua est ausus sus decertare Minerua.

Quoties indocti stolidique et depugnare parati non verentur summos in omni
doctrina viros in certamen literarium prouocare. Theocriti enarrator sic efferri
vulgo παροιμίαν scribit: Ὗς ὢν πρὸς Ἀθήνην ἐρίζεις, id est Sus cum sis, cum
Minerua contendis. Scholiastes nescio quis addit eos ἐρίζειν dici, qui verbis
certant, ἐρείδειν, qui factis, quo magis ridiculum est, si sus indocilis certet cum
Minerua disciplinarum praeside.

The reference to Theocritus is to Idyll 5, line 23:

Comatas
By these Nymphs of the lake—and may they be kind and propitious to me—I, Comatas, did not steal away with your pipe.

Lacon
May I have the sufferings of Daphnis if I believe you.6 But if you would like to wager a kid—not a big stake, after all7—then I’ll compete with you in song until you give in.

Comatas
A pig once challenged Athena.8 There: the kid is my stake; now you put forward a fat lamb.

Lacon
And how will that be fair, you trickster? Who shears hair instead of wool? Who wants to milk a wretched dog when a goat is at hand which has just given birth for the first time?

Kοματας
οὐ μάν, οὐ ταύτας τὰς λιμνάδας, ὠγαθέ, Νύμφας,αἵτε μοι ἵλαοί τε καὶ εὐμενέες τελέθοιεν,οὔ τευ τὰν σύριγγα λαθὼν ἔκλεψε Κομάτας.

Lακων
αἴ τοι πιστεύσαιμι, τὰ Δάφνιδος ἄλγε’ ἀροίμαν.ἀλλ’ ὦν αἴ κα λῇς ἔριφον θέμεν, ἔστι μὲν οὐδένἱερόν, ἀλλά γέ τοι διαείσομαι ἔστε κ’ ἀπείπῃς.

Kοματας
ὗς ποτ’ Ἀθαναίαν ἔριν ἤρισεν. ἠνίδε κεῖταιὥριφος· ἀλλ’ ἄγε καὶ τύ τιν’ εὔβοτον ἀμνὸν ἔρειδε.

Lακων
καὶ πῶς, ὦ κίναδος τύ, τάδ’ ἔσσεται ἐξ ἴσω ἄμμιν;τίς τρίχας ἀντ’ ἐρίων ἐποκίξατο; τίς δὲ παρεύσαςαἰγὸς πρατοτόκοιο κακὰν κύνα δήλετ’ ἀμέλγειν;

“Lei, professore, non mi conosce”….”e non me ne lamento!”

I’ve been reading the Decameron the last few days and in following some reference or other about the manuscript traditions I found an academic feud worth recounting.  I’m quoting the account found here but removing most of the publication details.

For [Vittore] Branca, Boccaccio has been a subject of study over six decades … he constructed a major new edition of the Decameron (1950–51). Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, an
American scholar had been simultaneously preparing his own edition of Boccaccio’s one hundred tales. The war disrupted both projects, but Branca scooped Charles S. Singleton, whose Laterza edition didn’t see print until 1955. Back in Italy, Branca and Ricci announced Hamilton 90 as the autograph, another blow to Singleton, who had judged B “the most authoritative… the manuscript on which my own critical edition was to be based.” In what he calls “the greatest irony of a scholar’s life,” he had not realized that the manuscript he judged best was, in fact, Boccaccio’s own. Branca meanwhile pushed forward with ever greater vigor … in 1967 he brought out Boccaccio’s Profilo biografico as preface to volume I in Tutte le opere, the definitive modern series he had undertaken with Mondadori of Milan (complete in all ten volumes as of 1998).

Back in Baltimore, to vindicate his own long years of painstaking efforts, Singleton organized a stellar team — Franca Petrucci, Armando Petrucci, Giancarlo Savino, and Martino Mardersteig — to prepare a diplomatic edition of Hamilton 90, handsomely reproduced with color facsimile pages of the manuscript and its witty autograph catchword illustrations.  In his Preface, he conspicuously refused to cite Branca at all, eliciting the latter’s predictably disdainful response in review pages of Studi sul Boccaccio (which Branca had founded in 1963): diplomatic editions were a thing of the past; this one was a useless anachronism and total waste of money. 

Singleton, in fact, … refused ever to speak Branca’s name in print (and even took pride in that stubborn silence).  Branca preferred liberally to quote his American antagonist, the better to undercut him with punctilious, withering criticism. Their transatlantic dueling gave rise to an anecdote I recall hearing from a fellow student at Johns Hopkins. As the story went, Branca and Singleton found themselves together for the first time at a conference. One approached the other to introduce himself, but the second cut him off in mid-sentence:

“Lei, professore, non mi conosce”
“e non me ne lamento!”

(“You, professor, do not know me”
“and I’m not complaining”)

Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages

A curious bit of sideline anthropology from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts except in our long-established Dutch communities.

I’d dispute a portion of this notion – since urban legends (localized nowhere and adoptable everywhere) and purely digital tales (like slenderman) have still managed to take hold among today’s highly mobile populations – but it does generally feel we all have impoverished local traditions thanks to such turnover.

She hath often dreamed of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing.

From Much Ado About Nothing (2.1) – far my favorite of the comedies for the dynamic between Benedick and Beatrice (the latter described by Leonato below)

There’s little of the melancholy element in her, my
lord: she is never sad but when she sleeps, and
not ever sad then; for I have heard my daughter say,
she hath often dreamed of unhappiness and waked
herself with laughing.

For the scene (4.1) where they admit their feelings for one another my Arden edition quotes this perfect analysis – “They manage by a deft indirectness to put nothing into a syntax where the other person can choose either its negative or its positive meaning” (Jorgensen in Redeeming Shakespeare’s Words) – that is also the tactical summation of the merry war that is my marriage.

The 2011 David Tennant/Catherine Tate production is well worth a view but – because I’m a purist and the 80s Gibraltar resettling rubs me wrong – even better is the David Tennant/Samantha Spiro 2005 BBC Radio production. Honorable mention goes to Michael Keaton as Dogberry in the 90s Branagh film.

And learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use.

From Henry IV pt. 2 (4.4):

LANCASTER
Fare you well, Falstaff: I, in my condition,
Shall better speak of you than you deserve.

Exeunt all but Falstaff

FALSTAFF
I would you had but the wit: ’twere better than
your dukedom. Good faith, this same young sober-
blooded boy doth not love me; nor a man cannot make
him laugh; but that’s no marvel, he drinks no wine.
There’s never none of these demure boys come to any
proof; for thin drink doth so over-cool their blood,
and making many fish-meals, that they fall into a
kind of male green-sickness; and then when they
marry, they get wenches: they are generally fools
and cowards; which some of us should be too, but for
inflammation. A good sherris sack hath a two-fold
operation in it. It ascends me into the brain;
dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy
vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive,
quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and
delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the
voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes
excellent wit. The second property of your
excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood;
which, before cold and settled, left the liver
white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity
and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes
it course from the inwards to the parts extreme:
it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives
warning to all the rest of this little kingdom,
man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and
inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain,
the heart, who, great and puffed up with this
retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour
comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is
nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and
learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till
sack commences it and sets it in act and use.
Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for
the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his
father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land,
manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent
endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile
sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If
I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I
would teach them should be, to forswear thin
potations and to addict themselves to sack.

I’d like to know whether any specific reference – folklore or literary – is behind the line ‘a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil.’ Both my Arden and my Oxford texts go no further than ‘alludes to the superstition that buried treasure was guarded by evil spirits’ but that somehow isn’t satisfying. There seems to me an alchemical reference of sorts where knowledge (as gold) is imprisoned (hoarded by a devil) until the right chemical agent (sack – below praised for its ‘warming’ virtues) induces the reaction that first stirs (commences) then sets it moving (in act and use).

Ex Libris #2 – Dante’s Lyric Poetry

Dante’s lyrics – his Rime – haven’t received much attention in English. Although there is a wonderful recent treatment with overview essays and some commentary – the 2014 Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’ in the Univ. of Toronto Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library – the fullest edition remains the Foster and Boyde Dante’s Lyric Poetry first printed in 1967 and reprinted five years later. This set is now very scarce – doubly so if you don’t want ex-library copies – and almost invariably ugly in price. But I recently tripped into a bargain of a near new copy so once again I add to the lumber room.