Mediaeval Gesta Romanorum - "Clarum oleum de quinque tonellis..."

By Antiochus, in 'Latin to English Translation', Jul 20, 2019.

  1. Antiochus New Member

    Hello friends,

    I'm having difficulty translating a few sentences from a tale in the Gesta Romanorum and would greatly appreciate any insight.

    For background, this particular tale relates to a naive boy who is accused of stealing oil from his rich (and greedy) neighbor. In short, the neighbor had entrusted 10 casks of oil to the boy for safekeeping (but had filled 5 of the casks only halfway full so as to then accuse the naive boy of theft and take the boy's house--typical Gesta stuff). But a wise philosopher is able to root out the greedy neighbor's duplicity and save the day (and it's how the philosopher proposed to ferret out the fraud that I'm grappling with; I'm struggling to come up with a translation that makes sense in its context).

    Here's the Latin: Ait philosophus: Clarum oleum de quinque tonellis plenis fac mensurari ut scias quantum ibi sit clari olei. Et similiter fac de quinque dimidiis, ut scias quantum in utrisque fuerit. Et si tantum spissi olei in dimidiis inveneris quantum in plenis, scias oleum esse furatum. Si vero in dimidiis tantum spissitudinis inveneris quantum clarum oleum invenies exigit quod non poteris in plenis invenire, scias utique oleum non esse furatum.

    Thank you in advance!
  2. Cinefactus Censor

    • Censor
    litore aureo
    Give us what you have and we can help you with the bits you are struggling with.
  3. Antiochus New Member

    Thank you, Cinefactus--here's where I'm at with these sentences:

    Said the philosopher: Have measured [clear?] oil from the five full casks so that you know how much [clear?] oil there should be. And do the same of the five half-filled [casks], so that you know how much will be in each. And if you find as much [density?] of oil in the half-filled [cask] as in the full, you will know oil was stolen. And if you find in the half-filled [casks] as much density as measured in the [clear?] oil which you found that you are not able to find in the full [casks], then you will know the oil was not stolen.
  4. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris

    Have the clear oil from the five full casks measured so that you know how much clear oil is there.

    - Have... measured: this word order makes more sense.

    - Indirect questions take the subjunctive in Latin as a rule*; it should usually translate as indicative in English.

    *Though that rule is a classical-Latin rule and is most probably broken elsewhere in the Gesta Romanorum, which is a work far from always following classical Latin rules.
    That's basically it but you'd usually say "with" rather than "of", in today's English at any rate.
    OK, this is one of the numerous places where tenses are used weirdly in the Gesta Romanorum. This fuerit may be a bit more likely to be perfect subjunctive than future perfect, but you never know. The normal English would be "is", and the normal Latin would be sit. Make of this what you will; I suppose you can go with something weird in English if you think your translation should reflect the messed-up language of the original.
    Spissi olei = "thick oil", or something like that. There may be a precise technical term that I'm not aware of.

    Dimidiis and plenis are plural, so "casks".

    The last sentence as found in your post seems unparsable to me. The passage may be corrupt. I've found another version of the story where it makes more sense:

    Et si in dimidiis tonellis inveneris talem partem spissitudinis qualem oleum clarum ibi existens exigit, quod quidem et in plenis tonellis invenire poteris, scias oleum non fuisse furatum.

    Basically, the idea is this:

    "Thick oil", that is oil thickened with sediment, sinks to the bottom of the cask, while "clear oil" remains on top. Casks containing an equal quantity of oil should all contain roughly the same proportion of "clear" and "thick" oil. Now, if someone steals oil from the casks by scooping it out, they will take only the "clear" oil that's on top. Thus, the amount of "clear" oil in the cask will diminish, but the amount of "thick" oil will remain the same. The theft can be detected if you see that some casks contain too great a proportion of "thick" oil. If a half-full cask contains as much "thick" oil as an entirely full one, you can know that the half-full cask initially contained as much oil as the entirely full one, but that some of it was stolen. If, on the other hand, the amount of "thick" oil in the half-full cask is the proportion that you would expect from the amount of "clear" oil that is there, you'll know that no oil was stolen but that the cask has been half-full from the start.
    Last edited by Pacifica, Jul 21, 2019
    Issacus Divus likes this.
  5. Antiochus New Member

    Ahhh--that makes so much more sense now. Thank you so much, Pacifica--there are two wise philosophers in this thread ; )
  6. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris
    Lol. You're welcome. :)
  7. Issacus Divus Well-Known Member

    That's that classic, fable-like reasoning for tales. Nice.

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