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Georgics I.204-207: my commentary

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Georgics I.204-207: my commentary

Postby bellum paxque » Thu Oct 05, 2006 9:24 am

I'm just posting four lines that, in my opinion, are the most confusing I've met so far while reading the first book of Virgil's Georgics. Finally I got the gist of them, with a little help from the notes, but I thought I'd share my difficulty here in the forum. After all, asperum alieno, tibi auxilium.

Georgics 1.204-207

praeterea tam sunt Arcturi sidera nobis
Haedorumque dies seruandi et lucidus Anguis,
quam quibus in patriam uentosa per aequora uectis
Pontus et ostriferi fauces temptantur Abydi.

What are the difficulties - if they're not apparent already?

1) the word order
2) the elliptical second clause (!)
3) the proper names

Fortunately, the diction isn't especially hard, most of it easily guessable derivative adjectives (lucidus < lux, uentosa < uentu). The only tricky points are fauces = "strait," a transferred meaning from the literal "neck," and ostrifer, which I didn't guess meant "oyster-bearing" probably because I'd forgotten ostrea (and because "oyster-bearing" is a little absurd).

Here's context: the nobis in the first line refers to the farmers (agricolae) who must pay attention to the signs of the zodiac, that is, the movement of the constellations in the heavens, in order to properly cultivate their crops. The 1st book of the Georgics, for those who haven't had the pleasure of reading them, advises farmers on the proper methods of their craft.

Here's the syntax untied (oratio soluta):

praeterea Arcturi sidera Haedorumque dies et lucidus Anguis tam seruandi nobis sunt quam [eis ab] quibus in patriam per uentosa aequora uectis Pontus et fauces ostriferi Abydi temptantur.

Which, translated:

Also, we ought to observe [=seruandi] the constellation of Arcturus, the days of the Kids [=Haedorum] and the shining Serpent as much as they by whom, as they sail home through stormy seas, Pontus and the straits of oyster-bearing Abydus are dared.

Notice how much the absence of [eis ab] throws off the sentence. Not only is the pronoun antecedent of a relative clause omitted ("[eis] quibus"), something that happens quite often in Latin, but the relative pronoun ("quibus") is used as the agent in a passive sentence ("temptantur") WITHOUT ab/a, much more rare. When we also consider that the pronoun antecedent ("eis") is the dative of agent for an IMPLIED gerundive ("servandi sunt") from the PREVIOUS clause, we have a real puzzle.

I could add the baffling syntax of the first clause, which by itself is pretty tricky, given the uncommon meaning of "servo," the separation of "servandi" from "sunt" and from "nobis." I could also add the difficulty of the proper names here, especially astrological names, for modern readers. But the poem speaks for itself (ad aspera per astra?!? yes, bad joke)

praeterea tam sunt Arcturi sidera nobis
Haedorumque dies seruandi et lucidus Anguis,
quam quibus in patriam uentosa per aequora uectis
Pontus et ostriferi fauces temptantur Abydi.

Here's my own hasty syllabic/accentual poetic rendering:

To continue, we ought to observe the stars of Arcturus,
the season that sends us the Kids, and the shimmering Serpent,
no different from those who sail the storm-driven ocean
past Pontus and Abydus, straits that are laden with oysters.
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Re: Georgics I.204-207: my commentary

Postby cantator » Thu Oct 05, 2006 11:50 am

bellum paxque wrote:I'm just posting four lines that, in my opinion, are the most confusing I've met so far while reading the first book of Virgil's Georgics. Finally I got the gist of them, with a little help from the notes, but I thought I'd share my difficulty here in the forum. After all, asperum alieno, tibi auxilium.


It's so much fun to parse Latin poetry. ;)

the diction isn't especially hard, most of it easily guessable derivative adjectives (lucidus < lux, uentosa < uentu). The only tricky points are fauces = "strait," a transferred meaning from the literal "neck," and ostrifer, which I didn't guess meant "oyster-bearing" probably because I'd forgotten ostrea (and because "oyster-bearing" is a little absurd).


Lucidus, ventosa, and fauces are all common enough. Ostriferi is rare, occurring only in Virgil and Lucretius.

I could add the baffling syntax of the first clause, which by itself is pretty tricky, given the uncommon meaning of "servo," the separation of "servandi" from "sunt" and from "nobis." I could also add the difficulty of the proper names here, especially astrological names, for modern readers. But the poem speaks for itself (ad aspera per astra?!? yes, bad joke)


The syntax is also common enough for Latin poetry, i.e. commonly confusing. :)

Some nits with your (otherwise fine) translation:

"servandi sunt" and "temptantur" indicate that the subjects are the stars and seas, not us. The stars and seas are to be regarded *by us*, perhaps a small distinction but one that is clear in the original and lost in translation. Also, you left out "in patriam".

I find the passage clear enough without the assumed "ab eis", adding it seems a bit tortured.

Great poetry though, isn't it ? :)
Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.
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Postby bellum paxque » Sat Oct 07, 2006 1:40 am

Some nits with your (otherwise fine) translation:

"servandi sunt" and "temptantur" indicate that the subjects are the stars and seas, not us. The stars and seas are to be regarded *by us*, perhaps a small distinction but one that is clear in the original and lost in translation. Also, you left out "in patriam".


Oops - I completely forgot about the in patriam! Maybe I'll try to rework the translation to accommodate that later.

As for changing the subject of servandi - it's my firm opinion that the gerundive is often best translated by a change of subject, especially when the dative of agent is present. So,

Carthago delenda est! - Carthage must be destroyed!
but
Carthago nobis delenda est! - We must destroy Carthage!

No doubt there are exceptions to this principle, but, especially in a poetic rendering, I think it's often acceptable. Otherwise, contorted and unnatural English renditions often result.

I changed temptantur from passive to active in my translation between the Latin is so contorted I couldn't get good English poetry from it otherwise. This may be the fault of me, the translator, not of the passage, though. ;)

David
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Postby Interaxus » Tue Oct 10, 2006 12:39 am

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Postby bellum paxque » Tue Oct 10, 2006 11:40 pm

My own execrable attempt to keep as close to the Latin structure as possible in clumsy English (in order to understand the Latin) runs:


Hardly execrable, dear Interaxus! I'm glad I got you to look at the same passage. I hope you enjoyed the oyster-bearing straits and the glittering constellations.

Hmm, perhaps it’s time to go out and parse the night sky for Arcturus, Auriga and Draco!


Alas, constellations are one more thing for me to learn. But not in Seoul - where you're lucky to see the sun for the smog.

-David
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