The Vandalic language

An epigram from the Latin Anthology, De conviviis barbariis, which gives one of the few attestations of the language the Vandals spoke:

Inter “eils” Goticum “scapia matzia ia drincan!”
non audet quisquam dignos edicere versus.
Calliope madido trepidat se iungere Baccho.
ne pedibus non stet ebria Musa suis.

Which is understandably much disputed in rendering but, according to a recent translation by Magnus Snaedel, goes basically as follows:

Amid the Gothic “Hail! Let’s get [something to] eat and drink”
nobody dares to put forth decent verses.
Calliope hurries to depart from tipsy Bacchus.
A drunken Muse may not stand on her feet.

I’ve seen another rendering where scapia (related to schaffen?) has a sexual sense that would seem to fit equally well.

It’s as a half-caste that I bring my song to the bards’ rites

Below is the prologue to Persius’ Satires in Susanna Morton Braund’s Loeb edition.

I neither cleansed my lips in the nag’s spring nor recall dreaming on twin-peaked Parnassus so as to emerge an instant poet. The Heliconians and pale Pirene I leave to people with their statues licked by clinging ivy. It’s as a half-caste that I bring my song to the bards’ rites. Who equipped the parrot with his “Hello” and taught the magpie to attempt human speech? It was that master of expertise, that bestower of talent, the belly—an expert at copying sounds denied by nature. Just let the prospect of deceitful money gleam and you’d think raven poets and poetess magpies were chanting the nectar of Pegasus.

Nec fonte labra prolui caballino
nec in bicipiti somniasse Parnaso
memini, ut repente sic poeta prodirem.
Heliconidasque pallidamque Pirenen
illis remitto quorum imagines lambunt
hederae sequaces; ipse semipaganus
ad sacra vatum carmen adfero nostrum.
quis expedivit psittaco suum “chaere”
picamque docuit nostra verba conari?
magister artis ingenique largitor
venter, negatas artifex sequi voces.
quod si dolosi spes refulserit nummi,
corvos poetas et poetridas picas
cantare credas Pegaseium nectar.

Her translations of Juvenal and especially Persius – who is forever less attended to – are far my favorites now.  Generally when she departs from the Latin it’s for a punch that strict conformity can’t get across – e.g. here ‘nag’s spring’ for fonte caballino where caballinus is really a neutral adjective ‘pertaining to a horse’, ‘an instant poet’ for repente poeta where the adverbial repente truly does better as adjective – but I very much dislike ‘half-caste’ for semipaganus.  Lewis and Short give it ‘half-rustic, half a clown’ based off the varying senses of the root element paganus


‘Half-caste’ sounds to me too much a British empire insult and too much privileges the connotation of semi over that of paganus – which, without rousing all the dull dribblings of the ‘persona of the satirist’ arguments, still seems very much at the heart of the scene with its clear references to Hesiod (including ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, ‘field-dwelling shepherds’, Theogony 26) and (as becomes apparent in the ensuring satires) the author’s distaste for the culture of his urban surroundings.  I prefer an Americanized ‘half a hillbilly’.

Enjoy the wine today, tomorrow there will be none

The opening to ch.15 of Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight:

THE NEXT DAY they did indeed visit the Villa Giulia. They looked at the graves and the sarcophagi, with their lids supporting terracotta statues of the old Etruscan dead enjoying their lives—eating, drinking, embracing their spouses, and proclaiming the Etruscan philosophy. This, being wise enough not to have developed literature in the evolution of their cultural life, they never  committed to writing, though of course it can be read unmistakably on the faces of their statues: only the present matters, and moments of beauty are eternal.

Waldheim pointed out some broad drinking bowls. These were for wine, as the inscription proclaimed: Foied vinom pipafo, cra carefo.

“Enjoy the wine today, tomorrow there will be none,” Waldheim translated. “Tell me, could it be expressed more succinctly or truly? That statement, in its archaic splendour, is as definitive and unshakeable as any polygonic city-walls or cyclopean buildings. Foied vinom pipafo, cra carefo.

The patera – pictured below – is real, as is the inscription (only with vino in place of vinom).  It is one of the few meaningful bits of an old Italic language, Faliscan, related to but distinct from Latin.  The Old Latin version of the same is reconstructed as ‘hodie vinom bibabo, cras carebo.’  The literal translation is “today I will drink wine, tomorrow I won’t have any”


With the text clearer – reading right to left:



Brother, I was drunk when I swore it

From the 12th century Parabolae of Odo of Cheriton (no.56):

Contra non implentes uotum.
Mus semel cecidit in spumam uini uel cervisie, quando bul[l]iuit. Catus transiens audiuit Murem pipantem eo quod exire non potuit. Et ait Catus: Quare clamas? Respondit: Quia exire non ualeo. Ait Catus: Quid dabis mihi, si te extraxero? Ait Mus: Quicquid postulaueris? Et ait Catus: Si te hac uice liberauero, uenies ad me cum te uocauero? Et ait Mus: Firmiter hoc promitto. Ait Catus: Iura mihi. Et Mus iurauit. Catus Murem extraxit et ire permisit. Semel Catus esuriuit et uenit ad foramen Muris, et dixit ei quod ad ipsum exiret. Dixit Mus: Non faciam. Ait Catus: Nonne iurasti mihi? Dixit: Frater, ebria fui, quando iuraui.
Sic plerique, quando infirmi uel in carcere uel in periculo, proponunt et promittunt uitam emendare, ieiunare uel huiusmodi. Sed cum periculum euaserunt, uotum implere non curant, dicentes: In periculo fui et ideo non teneor.

Against not filling a vow:

A mouse once fell into a cask of wine or beer while he was drinking from it. A cat happening to pass by heard the mouse squeaking because he was not able to get out.
-And the cat said: Why are you crying?
-He answered: Since I’m not strong enough to get out.
-The cat said: What will you give me if I pull you out?
-The mouse replied: What will you demand?
-And the cat said: If I free you from this plight, will you come to me when I call you?
-And the mouse said: Solemnly do I promise it.
-The cat said: Swear to me.
And the mouse swore to him. The cat pulled out the mouse and allowed him to leave.
Some time later the cat grew hungry and came to the door of the mouse, and said to him that he should come out.
-The mouse said: I will not do it.
-The cat said: Didn’t you swear to me?
-He said: Brother, I was drunk when I swore

Thus many, when sick or in prison or in danger, propose or promise to improve thier life, to fast, or something else. But when they have escaped the danger they have no concern with filling the vow, saying : I was in danger and so I’m not held by it.

As is my wine, so are my words

My free rendering of a stanza from poem 4 of the 12th cent. Archpoet‘s works.


As is my wine, so are my words

Nothing can I produce, not unless I’ve already eaten.

Worth nothing at all are those poems I write on an empty belly,

but after a deep glass I will outrun Ovid in song


Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo,

nihil possum facere, nisi sumpto cibo.

Nihil valent penitus, quae ieiunus scribo,

Nasonem post calicem carmine preibo.


The Archpoet is best (~only) known for the “Meum est propositum in taberna mori” (My purpose is to die in a tavern) stanza of the poem generally called his ‘Confession’, but there are a good few similarly playful bits scattered through the rest of his work.

He tends to be very difficult to translate with any satisfaction given the structural parallelisms he everywhere deploys.  Here alone we find:

line-end rhymes (bibo … cibo … scribo … preibo)

line-internal corresponding clauses (Tales … quale)

line-start vocab repetition (Nihil… / Nihil…)

line-start sound repetition (Nihil… / Nihil… / Nasonem..)