Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday Vespers Even Week

Thanks to Quantitative Metathesis, who mentioned this blog in a post last night. She has also started a new project: translating the patristic reading from the Office of Readings in the Latin breviary. Just a lil' project to "keep her out of trouble." Awesome cool stuff. She debuts with Clement to the Corinthians.

Sator princépsque témporum,
Sower and master of times,
clarum diem labóribus
the bright day with labors
noctémque qui sopóribus
and the night which with sleep
fixo distínguis órdine,
you separate in fixed order,

Mentem tu castam dírige,
Direct Thou the chaste mind
obscúra ne siléntia
conceal not silences (by silence?)
ad dira cordis vúlnera
toward dreadful wounds of the heart
telis patéscant ínvidi.
that they may reveal the hateful spears.

Vacent ardóre péctora,
May our souls be free from passions,
faces nec ullas pérferant,
may they not bear any torch
quæ nostro hæréntes sénsui
which, clinging to our senses
mentis vigórem sáucient.
would wound the life of the mind.

Præsta, Pater piísime,
Patríque compare Unice,
cum Spíritu Paráclito
regnans per omne saéculum. Amen.

Short and sweet today. I love the imagery of hateful darts, wounds in the soul, torches and the like. It's not that I love the darts and torches: my own cor et pectus et mens have suffered these (too-oft self-inflicted) attacks. I just love seeing my everyday experience reflected in a medieval hymn.

I long to really enter into the meaning of obscúra ne siléntia. I'm not understanding it in the context of that stanza right now, and I suspect some hidden, wonderful truth in the meaning of this prayer. Can anyone help?


Pawel said...

Here's my suggestion:

Mentem tu castam dírige,
Direct Thou the chaste mind
obscúra ne siléntia
that the dark silences not
ad dira cordis vúlnera
toward dreadful wounds of the heart
telis patéscant ínvidi.
reveal the hateful spears.

BTW, is "telis" the spears? It does not sound like a plural.

Geometricus said...

Thank you for this, Pawel. Your second line makes more sense. This is evening prayer, darkness is coming soon. It would make sense to pray that the darkness will not silence...God's direction, I would guess.

Here is my dilemma: siléntia could be either participle (sileo, silere, silui "be silent, not to speak", adjective (nom or acc or voc plural "silent, still") or noun (nom or acc or voc plural "silence"). You have taken silentia as the verb and obscura as the subject, whereas I did the opposite.

I thought obscúra was the 2nd pers present active imperative of obscuro, obscurare, obscuravi, obscuratus.

The reason I made this decision is that patéscant is 3rd person plural present active subjunctive. What is the plural subject of this verb? The likely candidates are obscura, silentia, or telis.

That brings us to telis. Interesting word. It could be dative/ablative plural of tela, telae, "web, warp(lengthwise thread in a loom)", dative/ablative plural of telum, teli, "dart, spear; weapon, javelin; bullet" or nominative/genitive singular or accusative plural of telis, telis "fenugreek (an herb)".

My natural inclination was to go with the second meaning "spears" but that means telis is not the subject...unless subjunctive verbs can take datives or ablatives as their subject. This brings me to the very edge of my Latin grammar knowledge.

What is revealing the hateful spears? Silences or darkness? OR What are the hateful spears revealing? Dreadful wounds?

QM is closer to studying this stuff, having just received a master's degree. Could you help out, QM?

Pawel said...

Errm... no, that's not what I meant ;-)

I may not be good enough with either Latin or English. I took the "silences" in your original version as a noun (well, the plural sounds strange, but with English, you should know better than I).

I used it in my version as a noun too. What I intended is more or less
"...so that the silence (never mind the plural) does not...".


now I think that the spears of hate are opening the wounds of heart.
What's left for the silence to do then?

Geometricus said...

I emailed Quantitative Metathesis and hopefully she will come over and help us.

Anonymous said...

Alrighty! I love translation debates...thanks for the invite, Geo!

I'm pretty sure the second stanza reads:

Mentem tu castam dírige,
Direct Thou the chaste mind
obscúra ne siléntia
lest shadowy/dark silences
ad dira cordis vúlnera
toward dreadful wounds of the heart
telis patéscant ínvidi.
extend with the spears of the hateful one.

Pawel is correct that "silentia" is the plural subject of "patescant," and that "obscura" is a participle modifying it. Where you both have been running into trouble is with "telis patescant invidi." Here's my explanation:
- Telis cannot be the object of patescant, since the verb "patesco" cannot take a dat/abl object. Since we don't have ANY object of patescant, we must take its second meaning, which is "to stretch out, extend." Telis then becomes an abl of means.
- Invidi cannot modify telis, since the latter is abl pl, and the former is decidedly gen sing (the other option, nom pl, makes no sense). It must therefore be a substantive adj, modifying an absent person.

So we have shadowy silences stretching toward the wounds of the heart with the spears of the devil! I believe the hymn is talking about the temptations which come to us when we are idle.

Geometricus said...


Thank you, QM. I should have known the old "ne...(subjunctive)" was "lest..." and then looked for the subjunctive, which was neither obscura not silentia.

Figulus said...

I have to agree with Pavel and QM here. My reason is primarily that using a negative imperative in Latin (obscura ne) is incredibly rude. Romans did not even talk that way to their slaves, though the poets often addressed inanimate objects, like ships and clouds, that way. The right way to say that to God would be "noli obscurare" or "ne obscuras".

"Ne" is typically used to negate a subjunctive, like "patescant". "Let them not extend". Extend toward what? To the wounds of the heart. How do they extend? With the webs (telis) of the invidus. The invidus is presumably the devil, although it may modify "cordis" in the line above.

All of this begs the question, "Let what not extend?" The only possible subject of "ne patescant" I see is "obscura silentia". Let not the dark silences extend in Satan's webs to the dreadful wounds of the heart. Or maybe, let not the dark silences be exposed by schemes (telis, figuratively) to the dreadful wounds of a hateful heart.

But what I still don't understand is, to what does ullas refer in the third strophe? "May our souls be free of ardor, nor let them bring any with a torch". Bring any what? Any feminine plural antecedant. But what feminine plural antecedant? Ardor is masculine and singular. Pectora is neuter. Fax is singular. Sensus is singular and masculine. Mens and vigor are both singular, and vigor is masculine to boot. But whatever "ullas" refers to, they wound the vigor of the mind.

Since you bring them with a torch, maybe they are understood by some cultural reference to be "flammae" (flames).