Sunday, June 14, 2009

Aeneid 1.55-56: The Winds

Illi indignantes magno cum murmure montis/circum claustra fremunt
"They (the winds) angrily roar around the bolts with the great murmur of a mountain."

In lines 1-7, Vergil, without mentioning Aeneas by name, introduced us to the theme of the hero in exile, punished on land and sea by an enraged goddess. He then invoked the Muse to help him understand the reasons for Juno's anger, and in the process praised the 'pietas' (1.10) of the still unamed hero. Lines 12-33 provided us with the reasons for her anger, with much of the focus on the city of Carthage, which looms larger over Roman history as well as Vergil's Aeneid.

At line 34-35, Vergil finally directs our attention to the Trojans, but still without mention of Aeneas by name. There we learn they are sailing happily and energetically away from Sicily, and that they have just barely passed beyond the visual field of Sicily.

Vix e conspectu Siculae telluris in altum/vela dabant laeti et spumas salis aere ruebant.

But before hearing anything else about the Trojans, we are taken back up to Juno and her anger, as we observe her speaking to herself about the insults she has suffered, and traveling to Aeolia, where she seeks out Aeolus and the winds under his control. Vergil, before describing the conversation between Juno and Aeolus, describes the winds in this way:

Illi indignantes magno cum murmure montis/circum claustra fremunt

The winds are bolted within the cavern, they are resentful, and they are roaring and rumbling in their eagerness to break free from Aeolus' control. The power of the winds that will soon attack the Trojans, who are happy and just beyond sight of Sicily, is more than the destructive power to which all sailors are vulnerable. These winds are caught up in a complex political, even sexual, dynamic involving gods, lesser deities, humans, and the natural world. The winds are personified, but naturalized as well. They are resentful (like people) but rumble and roar (like winds). They are in a natural space (a cavern) but bolted in, like prisoners. When they do attack the Trojans, their power will be natural, supernatural, and symbolic of the historical, military, religious, philosophic, and sexual forces which Aeneas must negotiate throughout the entire poem.

This sentence provides us with a great example of Vergil's poetic style. 'montis' meaning 'mountain' refers both to the physical location of the cavern and, metaphorically, to the size of their rumbling. Grammatically, it is in the genitive case (translate: 'of a/the mountain) and if you had to come up with a nice, literal translation, you would translate it after 'claustra' in the next line (around the bolts of the mountain). But given its proximity to 'murmure,' its position at the end of the line, and the alliterative connection to the previous prepostional phrase (note the repeated 'm' sounds in 'magno cum murmure montis'), it is hard not to take it also with 'murmure' and translate it 'with a great, mountainous murmur' - in other words it is used metaphorically to describe the size of their rumbling.

Finally, notice how this line demonstrates that Vergil's Latin, in spite of its distance in time and space from us, is so closely linked to English: indignantes (indignant), magno (magnify etc.), cum (= con, cf. convene, etc.) murmure (murmur), montis (Montana, etc) circum (circumnavigate, etc.), claustra (claustrophobia, closet, close), and fremunt (which is related to the Greek word from which brontosaurus derives).

Aeneid 1.36: aeternum servans sub pectore vulnus

"[Juno], preserving an eternal wound beneath her chest..."

The story begins: Aeneas and the survivors of the Trojan War are sailing to Italy. They leave Sicily in good spirits (laeti, l. 35), when Juno, whose reasons for being angry at the Trojans were catalogued in the previous lines, looks down from above, reflects upon the injustice of the Trojans' progress and how this is an insult to her position and divine power, and sets in motion events that lead to the Trojans shipwreck and arrival in Carthage. The line above is a participial phrase - there are no finite verbs - which, like most participial phrases, acts as a big adjective, giving us more information about Juno. This information is crucial to our understanding of the Aeneid as a whole. Juno has been wounded with an eternal wound, she feels it deeply and physically, and yet the reason that she feels it eternally is because of her own desire for preserving it. Some questions to ask ourselves: What does it mean for a divine force to be wounded? Can we think of other examples of divine powers in literature with eternal wounds? How does this compare with modern views of divine powers? What about mortals - do we know anyone who feels, and actively preserves, deep wounds? Finally, is there anything odd about this language, where a divine, immortal power is described in such physical terms - suffering a wound (a physical metaphor for emotional pain) beneath her chest?

One stylistic note, before looking at the words. aeternum modifies vulnus, which is the object of the participal servans and the two words - adjective, noun - frame the phrase as whole. Vergil's habit of using words to frame phrases and clauses can help you to translate his poetry- eventually your eyes will get used to looking ahead to the closing element of the frame, and you will learn to think of the unit as a whole, almost like a building block to the larger structure. But notice what else Vergil is able to accomplish with the frame - by putting aeternum at the beginning and the word it modifies, vulnus, at the end, he creates a word picture which helps us to visualize the size of the wound. aeternum is felt over the space of the phrase, and this reinforces the intensity of the wound.

Now to the words: each word in this phrase comes up frequently in English. The preposition sub, meaning 'beneath, under', is found in hundreds of compound English words - subatomic, submarine, subpar, etc. Derived from the adjective aeternum, , everlasting' , are eternal, eternity. It is actually a contracted form of aeviternus, with the root aevum- referring to uninterrupted, never-ending time, and is related to such English words as eon and ever (though not via Latin). The noun pectus, pectoris means 'chest' and is the source of the pectoral, ''relating to the chest.' From the noun vulnus, vulneris, we get vulnerable, vulnerability and, less commonly, vulnerary, which refers to something, such as an herb, that heals wounds. Finally, the participle servans, comes from servo, servare, to save, keep, protect, (not servio, servire, 'to serve). Whereas servo, -ire is the source of the verb serve, the noun, servant, and the adjective servile, from servo, -are, we get preserve (to keep alive), preservation, observe (to pay heed to, to watch), observatory and reserve (to keep back, save for future use), reservation.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Aeneid 1.33: Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem.

"It was such a massive task to establish the Roman race." This famous line sums up the previous lines about the struggles Aeneas suffered at the hands of Juno and states the larger theme of the entire poem - the founding (condere) of Rome and, since Rome is more than a geographical location, the founding of the Roman race. The word, condere, is the infinitive of condo, which is a combination of the preposition com (when not used in a compound, we know it as the preposition cum, meaning with) and the verb stem do, meaning 'to bring' or 'to place.' Therefore condere, most literally, means 'to bring together,' frequently in the context of bringing, or joining, something together into a whole.

This offers great insight into the mindset of the Romans from Vergil's perspective. 'Founding' or 'establishing' Rome involves taking incomplete elements at bringing them together into something perfect. To what extent does Vergil view this as a process that is capable of ever being completed perfectly? How might this be similar to or different from the mindset of present-day nations?

By the way, the verb stem do- does not seem to be related to the very common Latin verb do, dare, (to give), with its many English derivatives (donate, donor, vendor, condone, trade, tradition, perdition, etc.), but in fact is cognate with the English word, 'do' (to make, or put), and is related to the Latin verb facio, ere (to do or to make). English words related to condo, ere, include abscond (to put away, i.e. to put out of sight, conceal secretly) and recondite (something that is obscure, or has a hidden or profound meaning, with re here meaning (away from)). English words like credit, credible, creed etc. come from cre-do, meaning 'to put faith in something, to trust.'

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Aeneid 1.31-32: multosque per annos errabant

And they (the Trojans) were wandering for many years. There are many English words derived from each of these words: multiple, multitude, permanent, perpetual, persevere, persist, err, error, annual, annuity, perennial, etc.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

accendo, accendere, accendi, accensus - to kindle, set on fire

Aeneid 1.29-31, his accensa super iactatos aequore toto/Troas,.../arcebat longe Latio (in addition, inflamed by these things, she was keeping the Trojans far away from Latium, as they were being thrown over the whole sea). cf. candidus, white, clear, bright. Eng. incendiary, inflammatory, something used for setting property on fire. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Heroism, 18.Coarse slander, fire, tar and feathers and the gibbet, the youth may freely bring home to his mind and with what sweetness of temper he can, and inquire how fast he can fix his sense of duty, braving such penalties, whenever it may please the next newspaper and a sufficient number of his neighbors to pronounce his opinions incendiary.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

sperno, spernere, sprevi, spretus, to sever, separate, remove; to despise, scorn, spurn

Aeneid 1.26-27, 'manet alta mente repostum/iudicium Paridis spretaeque iniuria formae/et genus invisum et rapti Ganymedis honores' (there remains stored away in her deep mind the judgment of Paris and the injury resulting from her beauty having been spurned, and the hated race and the glory of Ganymede, having been snatched away). cf. parcus, sparing, spare, scanty, small, slight. Related to Eng., spurious, lacking authenticity or validity in essence or origin; of illegitimate birth. cf. John Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 390

A Canaanite, my faithless enemy.
This well I knew, nor was at all surprised,
But warned by oft experience. Did not she
Of Timna first betray me, and reveal
The secret wrested from me in her highth
Of nuptial love professed, carrying it straight
To them who had corrupted her, my spies
And rivals?In this other was there found
More faith, who, also in her prime of love,
Spousal embraces, vitiated with gold,
Though offered only, by the scent conceived
Her spurious first-born, Treason against me?
Thrice she assayed, with flattering prayers and sighs,
And amorous reproaches, to win from me
My capital secret, in what part my strength
Lay stored, in what part summed, that she might know;

Friday, June 5, 2009

volvo, volvere, volui, volutus, to roll, to turn over in the mind, to ponder

Aeneid 1.22, 'sic volvere Parcas' (thus rolled the Fates). cf. many Latin compounds (advolvo, circumvolvo, convolvo, devolvo, evolvo, involvo, obvolvo, pervolvo, provolvo, revolvo, subvolvo, supervolvo) and voluto (to roll), volubilis (rolling, whirling), rapid, volumen (a roll, volume). Eng. voluble, marked by a ready flow of speech, fluent. T. Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness: We wandered through the wide, dusty streets, and along the narrow sidewalks. It was a hot, still evening; the smell of the tropics was on the heavy December air. Through the open doors and windows we caught dim glimpses of the half-clad inmates of the poorer houses; women and young girls sat outside their thresholds in the moonlight. All whom we met were most friendly: the captain of the little Brazilian garrison; the intendente, a local trader; another trader and ranchman, a Uruguayan, who had just received his newspaper containing my speech in Montevideo, and who, as I gathered from what I understood of his rather voluble Spanish, was much impressed by my views on democracy, honesty, liberty, and order (rather well-worn topics); and a Catalan who spoke French, and who was accompanied by his pretty daughter, a dear little girl of eight or ten, who said with much pride that she spoke three languages—Brazilian, Spanish, and Catalan! Her father expressed strongly his desire for a church and for a school in the little city.