Sunday, January 14, 2007


The Sphinx and the Sphincter

In Milton's scatological views on the 'end times', Dr. Hodges asked for a translation of a Latin passage from one of Milton's academic exercises. Phyllis B. Tillyard, Milton: Private Correspondence and Academic Exercises (Cambridge: University Press, 1932) left the passage in question untranslated (p. 94). For an unexpurgated translation we must turn to the version by Bromley Smith in the Columbia University edition of Milton's works, volume XII (1936). Here is an extended excerpt, first in Smith's translation, then in the original Latin (pp. 226-229), with Dr. Hodges' passage in italics:
And now, my hearers, imagine that, although the first of April is not here, the feast of Hilaria, set apart for the mother of the gods, is at hand; or that a divine ceremony is due the God of laughter. Accordingly, smile and raise loud laughter from your saucy spleen; smooth your brow; yield to wrinkled nostrils, but do not be hanged on your hooked nose; let all places resound with most immoderate laughter; and let a more unfettered cachinnation evoke joyous tears, so that, when these are exhausted by laughter, grief may not have even a little drop to adorn her triumph. I, assuredly, if I shall behold anyone laughing with his jaw stretched too sparingly, will say that he is carefully concealing teeth that are scurfy and rotten and darkened with smut, or jutting out in unsightly ranks; or that in the course of breakfast to-day he so stuffed his paunch that he dare not swell out his belly with laughter, lest not his Sphinx, but his sphincter anus, accompany his mouth in its incantations, and against his will babble some riddles, which I pass over to the doctors, not to Oedipus, for interpretation; for I am unwilling that the groan of a posterior by its cheery voice should make a din in the assembly. Let the doctors who relax the bowels loosen up these questions. If anyone does not utter a loud and distinct roar, I shall assert that he breathes out such deep and deadly exhalations from his jaws that neither Aetna nor Avernus emits anything more noisome; or that he certainly has not long since eaten either garlic or leeks; so that as a result he dare not open his mouth lest he kill some of his neighbors with his stinking breath.

Et jam fingite, Auditores, quamvis non sint Aprilis Calendae, festa adesse Hilaria, matri Deum dicata, vel Deo Risui rem divinam fieri. Ridete itaque & petulanti splene sustollite cachinnum, exporrigite frontem, & uncis indulgete naribus, sed naso adunco ne suspendite; profusissimo risu circumsonent omnia, & solutior cachinnus hilares excutiat lachrymas, ut iis risu exhaustis ne guttulam quidem habeat Dolor qua triumphum exornet suum. Ego profecto si quem nimis parce diducto rictu ridentem conspexero, dicam eum scabros & cariosos dentes rubigine obductos, aut indecoro ordine prominentes abscondere, aut inter prandendum hodie sic opplevisse abdomen, ut non audeat ilia ulterius distendere ad risum, ne praecinenti ori succinat, et aenigmata quaedam nolens affutiat sua non Sphinx sed Sphincter anus, quae medicis interpretanda non Oedipo relinquo; nolim enim hilari vocis sono obstrepat in hoc coetu posticus gemitus: Solvant ista Medici qui alvum solvunt. Si quis strenuum & clarum non ediderit murmur eum ego asseverabo tam gravem & mortiferum faucibus exhalare spiritum, ut vel Aetna, vel Avernus nihil spiret tetrius; aut certe allium aut porrum comedisse dudum, adeo ut non audeat aperire os, ne vicinos quosque foetido halitu enicet.
In short, Milton is saying, "Laugh heartily. If I see someone holding back, I'll assume that (1) he doesn't want to show his rotten teeth; (2) he's afraid laughter will cause him to break wind; or (3) he doesn't want to kill those near him with his bad breath."

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?