Small problem in a lyric of "Petronius"

By Iynx, in 'Latin to English Translation', May 16, 2010.

  1. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    I recently stumbled upon a charming piece attributed to "Petronius":

    Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas,
    et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
    Non ergo ut pecudes libidinosae
    caeci protinus irruamus illuc
    (nam languescit amor peritque flamma);--
    sed sic sic sine fine feriati
    et tecum iaceamus osculantes.
    Hic nullus labor est ruborque nullus:
    hoc iuvit, iuvat et diu iuvabit;
    hoc non deficit incipitque semper.

    In translation the thing seems naturally to fall into the form of a sonnet:

    Uncleanly is that pleasure that we find
    in intercourse, and brief; and quickly of
    a quick and wetly consummated love
    we weary and grow tired. Not therefore blind
    as farmyard beasts libidinously inclined
    should we rush to the thing, for when we shove
    unto it love doth droop; the flame thereof
    doth die. I have a better plan in mind.

    Thus, thus we’ll keep eternal holiday:
    we’ll lie in one another’s arms and kiss.
    No weariness in this, no shame, no stain,
    but pleasure shared, today as yesterday,
    and then tomorrow by tomorrow, bliss
    that faileth not, but starteth new again.

    But there's a teensy problem. The more perspicacious among you will already have noted that I solved it in in the sonnet by the method so often used by translators confronted with difficulties: I left it out.

    The problem of course lies in that et tecum iaceamus -- "and let us with you lie". It seems to me that the context forbids any consideration that the author is really discussing a menage a several here. Is it merely a nosism-- is the author for some reason, maybe just metrical, referring to himself in the plural? Or should the tecum be read as "at your place"? I would appreciate any opinions.

    Please feel free also to point out any other errors I have made.
  2. Bitmap Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Cygnea, Gena
    nos for ego is pretty common in poetry; and this one is a hendecasyllabus, so there is also some metrical constraint. I wouldn't hesitate a second to translate this in the first person singular here.

    What an excellent effort to have turned this into a sonnet!
  3. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Thank you, Bitmap, both for your opinion on the first-person plural (which reassures me) and for your kind approval of the translation as a whole.
  4. Imber Ranae Ranunculus Iracundus

    • Civis Illustris
    Singular nos is really quite common in all types of classical Latin composition. Cicero uses it extensively in his letters, for example. Though I'm not entirely clear on all the nuances, it seems roughly equivalent to the English royal or editorial "we", except that it's applied even more generally than in English. There's usually a vague sense of speaking on behalf of others, from anything as broad as Romans in general, or more specifically one's generation, to one's own family and household (whether any of them actually have a say in the matter or not). It also seems common when professing an opinion, I suppose on the assumption that the opinion is not unique to the speaker but represents the positions of one's political party or the philosophical school of thought one adheres to.

    Elsewhere it may simply suggest an elevated social status or environment, having more to do with formality than any sense of inclusion of others. I'm not sure exactly under which category your example would fall. According to Lewis and Short it may variously take a singular or plural predicate, so I don't think osculantes implies anything one way or the other. As Bitmaps says, it's unlikely that any more than two lovers are supposed to be imagined.

    One way in which singular nos is limited, however (at least as it appears to me, though I could be wrong), is that it's always exclusive of the second person, never inclusive as is the so-called "authorial we" common in English, where the reader is considered a sort of participant. This is especially prevalent in scientific literature.
  5. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Thank you, Imber Ranae.

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