Translation Thread: Propertius I.3

By Cato, in 'Reading Latin', Sep 7, 2007.

  1. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    I've been updating the Wikipedia entry on Propertius, and have taken some time to read thru some of his earlier poems. In particular, I've read I.3, a delightful poem that doesn't often show up in a survey of the poet.

    I enjoyed it enough that I thought we could translate it together here. Like most of Propertius' work, this involves his mistress Cynthia, but I appreciated it more for the way it paints a picture of a delicate scene. The poem is by no means vulgar, but it does involve a scene that might offend a more prudish sensibility, so there you go.

    One more note: Propertius is often criticized for including obscure myth & geographic references, a habit he picks up from his Alexandrine originals who were always interested in showing the reader how well-read they were. With one possible exception, all of the references in this poem can be picked up by anyone with a working knowledge of Greek myth, and personally I think part of the fun in a poem like this is to pick up on an allusion or two.

    All the usual rules for the translation thread apply (chunks will be posted daily, translate only what you see...no fair talking about something we haven't seen yet, feel free to comment about any words/phrases/verses no matter what level of Latin you've had). The poem is only 46 lines, and can be found here at the Latin Library if you'd like to read ahead. Who knows, it may put a smile on your face the next time you have to walk home late after a night out on the town... :)
  2. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    First ten lines:

    Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina
    ...languida desertis Cnosia litoribus;
    qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno
    ...libera iam duris cotibus Andromede;
    nec minus assiduis Edonis fessa choreis (5)
    ...qualis in herboso concidit Apidano:
    talis visa mihi mollem spirare quietem
    ...Cynthia consertis nixa caput manibus,
    ebria cum multo traherem vestigia Baccho,
    ...et quaterent sera nocte facem pueri. (10)

    Thesea is abl. and modifies carina; Cnosia is a female citizen of Cnossus, the capital of Crete. Who is Propertius describing here?

    Cepheia - "descendant of Cepheus", goes with Andromede.

    Edonis is "Thracian"; Apidanus is a river in Thessaly. The couplet is a somewhat obscure reference.
  3. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina
    ...languida desertis Cnosia litoribus;
    qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno
    ...libera iam duris cotibus Andromede;
    nec minus assiduis Edonis fessa choreis (5)
    ...qualis in herboso concidit Apidano:
    talis visa mihi mollem spirare quietem
    ...Cynthia consertis nixa caput manibus,
    ebria cum multo traherem vestigia Baccho,
    ...et quaterent sera nocte facem pueri. (10)



    Good grief. I find this very difficult.

    I suppose that carina is here "ship" by metonymy, and that we are dealing with "Theseus' ship".

    As, Theseus ship withdrawing, the languid girl from Crete did lie upon the desert coasts,

    [so I suppose we're speaking of Ariadne here?]

    And as she hath reclined free now of the hard whetstones of Andromeda-- no, it's not Andromedae or Andromedes, but Andromede, nominative; it must be Andromeda who is doing the reclining

    And as Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus reclined, free now of the harsh whetstones;
    And no less weary than the persistent Hedon dancers;
    As in the vegetation she fell down by the Apidano,

    [I fear I'm making a fool of myself here, but I suppose it will all come right in the end].

    So the visions to me to breathe soft quiet

    This looks like an accusative + infinitive--- perhaps

    So it seemed to me soft quiet breathed...

    ***************************************************

    But from this point on I'm lost.

    Cynthia nixa-- nixa? What the heck is nixa? Glare has "The name of a certain deities assisting at childbirth"?, that is, one of the Nixi Di? Best leave it for now:

    Cynthia-- nixa-- with joined hands-- the head
    Drunken with much Bacchus-- I might have dragged--traces

    Or perhaps vestigia trahere is here "I might have dragged my feet"?

    And they might have shaken late at night the facem of the boy.

    Facem? Accusative singular of facies would be faciem, right?

    One expects something to happen after that tam that parallels the exhaustion of the heroines in the qualis-clauses. So Cynthia somethings would seem likely-- but I can't see anything that looks like an appropriate verb.
  4. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Aha! Fax, facis, "torch". So the end part becomes:

    When I would drag my feet, with much Bacchus,
    And the boys would shake the torch (?to keep it lit?) late in the night.

    I'm still stuck on nixa, and I suspect that's the crux. If I simply ignore it, I have

    So drunken Cynthia ___, head in joined hands [?],
    When I would drag my feet, with much Bacchus,
    And the boys would shake the torch late in the night.
  5. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Another aha! Nixa is probably a participle of nitor. So Cynthia is ablative, and Cynthia Nixa..ebria means "with drunken Cynthia supporting"...aha, aha!

    As, Theseus ship withdrawing, the languid Gnossian girl did lie upon the desert coasts,

    And as Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus reclined, free now of the hard whetstones

    And no less weary than the persistent Hedon dancers;

    As in the vegetation she fell down by the Apidano,

    So seemed to me soft quiet to breathe

    When I my feet dragged in, laden with much Bacchus,

    To drunken Cynthia, her head supported on her joined hands,

    And the boys shook the torch late in the night.


    I know that Cato glossed Edonis merely as "Thracian"; but I understood that the Edoni were, as Glare puts it "celebrated for their orgiastic worship of Bacchus", and I thought the "H" harmless, and suggestive of the English "hedonistic". But I'm not married to the idea; does anyone know whether the tribal name is cognate with the Greek word for "pleasure"?
  6. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    I've reflected a little further, and I'm going to change my grammatical ideas a little. I think that that spirare may be a historical infinitive, with a nominative object:

    And so to me seemed drunken Cynthia to breathe soft quiet,
    When I, laden with much Bacchus, dragged my feet in,
    Her head supported by her joined hands...

    That fits the antecedent mythological references much better.
  7. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    But we need to versify it. Iambic pentameter?

    Just as, with Theseus' ship departing thence,
    upon the desert coast the tired girl
    from Gnossos lay; just as in her first sleep
    Andromeda, to Cepheus born, once freed
    from those harsh stones did lie, no whit
    less weary than the dogged dancers of
    the Hedon rites; just as she threw her down
    upon the greenery, on Apidan's
    fair bank, in Thessaly; just so to me
    did drunken Cynthia appear to breathe
    soft silence, with her head supported in
    her two clasped hands; when I'd drag in
    my feet, with lots of Bacchus burdened, and
    the boys would shake the torch, late in the night.


    I am tempted, with that, to delete my earlier stupidities; but I will leave them as a sign to my fellow translators: in letters, as in life, one may go far astray, and yet regain the right road ere the end.
  8. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    I appreciate exposing your thought process on this Iynx; I think it's very instructive.

    In particular, seeing how a word like nixa can trip up seasoned Latinists is worth reviewing. In my case, I was sure that caput was a Greek accusative (a part of the body which "specifies" the action of the verb), and with consertis...manibus - "interlocked/folded hands" right there, I conjectured nixa was a participle meaning something like "reclined". A quick check of the dictionary confirmed the exact meaning. On a side note, I like how the caput is literally embraced by the consertis...manibus; I imagine her looking something like one of those old pin-up girls who would often pose with their hands behind their head.

    Regarding the Edoni, you are correct. I felt I had to apply some gloss, but didn;'t want to give too much away. The idea here is that they are describing one of thes ecstatic dancers once the dance is over, flopped down exhauusted on the ground. I'm not sure if it's connected to the Greek word, but it makes sense.

    The first three couplets are three isolated examples of women who appear to be resting deeply; Propertius is using them as a point of comparison to his own sleeping Cynthia. Always remember the informal "rule of 3" in Latin literature, which suggests that poets will often express things in trios where appropriate...
  9. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    One small quibble with your translation Iynx; could Ebria go with vestigia? That was my thinking at least; why else would Propertius be "dragging himself" in unless it was after a rather heroic night out withthe boys? He's coming in and trying not to wake up his mistress...
  10. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    Sure could be vestigia ebria rather than Cynthia ebria. I certainly couldn't tell from the syntax, but I agree that vestigia ebria seems more likely from the context. Most drunken women don't breathe soft silence, do they?

    Let's try to fix the verses accordingly:

    Just as, with Theseus' ship departing thence,
    upon the desert coast the tired girl
    from Gnossos lay; just as in her first sleep
    Andromeda, to Cepheus born, once freed
    from those harsh stones did lie, no whit
    less weary than the dogged dancers of
    the Hedon rites; just as she threw her down
    upon the greenery, on Apidan's
    fair bank, in Thessaly; just so to me
    did Cynthia appear to breathe soft silence,
    with her head supported in her two
    clasped hands, when I'd drag in my drunken feet,
    with lots of Bacchus burdened, stumbling, and
    the boys would shake the torch, late in the night.

    Two things I'm still unsure about: who exactly was falling into the vegetation by the Apidanus, and why the boys were shaking the torch.
  11. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    One thing I like about this Latin so far is the smooth shift, within a fairly rigid format, from the hyper-erudite to the personal, even domestic tone of the later lines.
  12. kmp Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Location:
    England
    I must say I know almost no Propertius. But, strangely, this is the one poem of his that I do know. I've read it in translation and thought it brilliant. But I've never read it in the original Latin.

    I suppose this is my opportunity. But I must say I don't like the piecemeal approach of these translation threads. I'm too impatient. I just want to read and discuss the whole thing.

    I wonder whether the drip-by-drip approach works anyway. The last two translation threads (the Catullan address to the door and Vergil's fourth eclogue) both petered out before the final lines were reached. This means we missed out on any discussion of the poem as a whole - which to me is the most interesting thing.

    Perhaps it would be better to put complete poems up and invite responses. You could keep them very short - epigrams by Martial, Catullus etc.

    Just a suggestion.
  13. kmp Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Location:
    England
    On the Latin of these opening lines, I think Edonis is the word which most requires a gloss.

    This is nominative feminine singular. It means a girl from a Thracian tribe known as worshippers of Bacchus. Hence, a Bacchanal.
  14. kmp Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Location:
    England
    Lynx : the torch needing shaking to keep it alight - it had almost gone out because the poet was back so late!
  15. kmp Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Location:
    England
    My text has "non certis" rather than "consertis". It's still a pin-up pose, I think. But her hands are not necessarily interlocked.
  16. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    I could easily be wrong, kmp, but I think that Edonis is ablative plural, modified by assiduis (my "dogged"). The tribal name (to the Romans) was, I believe, Edoni, -orum. I take this to be an ablative of comparison folowing the minus.

    There is a graeciform "feminine adjective" Edonis, -idos, defined by Glare as "Of the Edoni; (as [substantive]) an Edonian woman, esp. as a worshiper of Bacchus". But I believe that it is formally the first of these words, and not the second, with which we have to deal.

    There is no question but that the image is that of an exhausted Bacchante.

    I'm still out on a limb as far as my "H" is concerned. I'm postulating (or maybe just suggesting) a connection between this word and Ἡδονἠ, and I really don't know whether this is justified, either etymologically or in the context of the whole of this poem (which if I have read before, I don't remember).

    Which leads me to my next point: I do find these exercises very useful-- and fun (though sometimes I do refrain from participating, sometimes from time constraints, but more usually because the piece happens to be one with which I am very familiar, and I don't want to spoil the thing for others). There is a place, no doubt, for all-at-once exposition. But this cooperative, step-at-a-time gnawing away at a thing has virtues of its own.

    To each his own, I suppose; but I also like doing crossword puzzles in groups, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next few lines.
  17. kmp Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Location:
    England
    I think you get a more natural sense out the lines if you take Edonis as a nominative. Otherwise you have a rather ugly conglomeration of ablatives in the same line - Edonis , assiduis, choreis - plus no real substantive.

    Edonis fessa choreis assiduis = the Bacchante tired with continual dancing

    This makes more sense to me that "dogged Edonians" (and surely "dogged" is completely the wrong word to describe orgiastic and ecstatic dancers?)
  18. Iynx Consularis

    • Consularis
    1. I think you're right, kmp, that "dogged" may not be the mot juste here. In fairness, assiduus is also not the first adjective that comes to mind when I think of lightly clad damsels dancing to Dionysius-- but that is Propertius' word, not ours.

    Still, if we toss the dogged, what shall we put in its place? I'm reluctant to leave the assiduis untranslated. "Durable"? "Drawn-out"? "Dragged-out"? "Perduring"? "Enduring"? "Constant"? Where is Dr. Roget when we need him?

    But what would y'all think of "the day-long dancers"?

    One problem with that is that I have no idea whether the "Hedon rites" really did go on for days--or even if they were diurnal.

    2. On that H: I've finally found (in dem Kleinen Pauly) that the tribal name, in Greek, begins with a smoothed-breathed eta. So I'll lose the H.

    3. But you have not convinced me, kmp, on the case of Edonis. It is interesting to reflect that while we agree completely on what the words mean, we are not in agreement on the syntax. What do you mean by "a real substantive?"? Edonis and choreis are substantives, even if in the ablative, are they not?

    To clarify my position, I think that the clause modifies Andromede, which is nominative: Andromeda--tired (fessa)-- not less (nec minus)-- than the perduring Edon dancers (assiduis Edonis choreis).

    4. But as I say, this (curiously) affects our translation not at all, which presently stands as:

    Just as, with Theseus' ship departing thence,
    upon the desert coast the tired girl
    from Gnossos lay; just as in her first sleep
    Andromeda, to Cepheus born, once freed
    from those harsh stones did lie, no whit
    less weary than the daylong dancers of
    the Edon rites; just as she threw her down
    upon the greenery, on Apidan's
    fair bank, in Thessaly; just so to me
    did Cynthia appear to breathe soft silence,
    with her head supported in her two
    clasped hands, when I'd drag in my drunken feet,
    with lots of Bacchus burdened, bumbling, and
    the boys would shake the torch, late in the night.
  19. kmp Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Location:
    England
    Lynx - I really don't think that fessa goes with Andromeda - Propertius is making three entirely separate examples each introduced by a qualis.

    I don't think minus goes with fessa at all - I think it qualifies the third qualis - so the English is something like;

    Just as the Cretan woman lay on the shore when Theseus dumped her,
    Just as Andromeda lay down freed from her rock,
    And not less just as the Bacchante tired with continual dances falls on the grassy banks of Apidanus
    So did Cynthia seem to me etc etc


    Now "not less just as" is not English as such - but that's how I interpret the thrust of the Latin. (Perhaps "no less like" would be an acceptable English phrasing)

    I also think your worries about the meaning of assiduis stems from trying to link it to the Edoni. Yes, it is difficult for tribesmen to be continual but once the adjective it is applied where it belongs - to choreis- then there is no difficulty at all. We're talking of "continual dances". (Perhaps "relentless" would be a more poetic term here).

    Propertius has a reputation of being a difficult poet - perhaps this discussion confirms it. :wondering:
  20. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    He does have that reputation, and I like Iynx's point about agreeing with the meaning even though the syntax is a bit up in the air.

    Regarding theories which e.g. pair fessa with Andromede, my experience with the elegists is that they like to keep the couplets a compete thought in and of themselves, and avoided placing grammatically-linked words in separate couplets. There are of course exceptions, but it's a pretty good rule to apply in translation.

    I'm somewhat surprised kmp that you were familiar with this poem and not other poems of Propertius. There are certainly other more famous and equally skilled poems in the collection, and although I've read plenty of the elegists I was not familiar with this one before about a week ago. A pity it isn't better known; as a slice-of-life piece it's unbeatable.

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