Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Te Spirant Terrae

The beginning of line 7 (te spirant terrae) in the Hymn to the Moon (Anthologia Latina 723) puzzled me until I realized that it probably refers to the earth's exhalations, which flow upwards and nourish the heavenly bodies, as explained by T.L. Heath, Aristarchus of Samos, the Ancient Copernicus: A History of Greek Astronomy to Aristarchus... (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913; rpt. 2013), p. 59 (paraphrasing the summary of Heraclitus' doctrines found in Diogenes Laertius 9.9-10; footnotes omitted):
There are two kinds of exhalations which arise from the earth and from the sea; the one kind is bright and pure, the other dark; night and day, the months, the seasons of the year, the years, the rains and the winds, &c., are all produced by the variations in the proportion between the two exhalations. In the heavens are certain basins or bowls (σκάφαι) turned with their concave sides towards us, which collect the bright exhalations or vaporizations, producing flames; these are the stars. The sun and the moon are bowl-shaped, like the stars, and they are similarly lit up.
The idea gained wider currency, as the following passages show.

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.33.83 (tr. H. Rackham):
Her [the earth's] exhalations moreover give nourishment to the air, the ether, and all the heavenly bodies.

eiusdemque exspirationibus et aer alitur et aether et omnia supera.
Seneca, Natural Questions 2.6.1 (tr. Thomas H. Corcoran):
On the other hand, it [the aer or atmosphere] receives whatever the earth sends for the nourishment of the heavenly bodies.

sed tamen, quicquid terra in alimentum caelestium misit, recipit.
See also Plutarch, Concerning the Face Which Appears in the Orb of the Moon 25 = Moralia 938 F (tr. Harold Cherniss and William C. Helmbold), who says that the moon "digests the exhalations from the earth."

The words from the Hymn to the Moon, therefore, mean something like "The lands nourish you with their exhalations," or so I think.

The end of line 7 also puzzles me: tu vinclis Tartara cingis. The only explanation that occurs to me is a bit far-fetched:
  1. One of Hercules' labors was the capture of Cerberus from the underworld.
  2. In the course of capturing Cerberus, Hercules put the hound in chains.
  3. Hercules performed this and his other labors at Juno's command.
  4. Juno is identified with the moon (Hymn to the Moon, line 9).
See Seneca, Hercules Furens 57-63 (Juno speaking; tr. John G. Fitch; emphasis added):
But he [Hercules], in his arrogance at having smashed the prison of the ghostly dead, is celebrating his triumph over me, and highhandedly parading the black hound through Argive cities. I saw the daylight faltering at the sight of Cerberus, and the Sun afraid; I too was seized with trembling, and as I gazed at the triple necks of the defeated monster, I shuddered at what I had ordered.

at ille, rupto carcere umbrarum ferox,
de me triumphat et superbifica manu
atrum per urbes ducit Argolicas canem.
viso labantem Cerbero vidi diem
pavidumque Solem; me quoque invasit tremor,
et terna monstri colla devicti intuens
timui imperasse.
Id., 596-597 (Hercules speaking; emphasis added):
I brought earth's hidden things into the light under orders.

iussus in lucem extuli
arcana mundi.
If it is argued that Juno's command or will cannot be identified with Hercules' act, cf. the explicit identification at Hercules Furens 1296-1297 (after Hercules slays his own son; Hercules and his human father Amphitryon are speaking):
HERC. See, by this arrow, my boy fell slain.
AMPH. This arrow was fired by Juno, using your hands.

HERC. hoc en peremptus spiculo cecidit puer.
AMPH. hoc Iuno telum manibus emisit tuis.
In support of this interpretation see another Hymn to the Moon in Karl Preisendanz, ed., Papyri Graecae Magicae, Vol. I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1928), p. 164 (IV.2863): Κέρβερον ἐν δεϲμοῖϲιν ἔχειϲ, i.e. "You keep Cerberus in chains." There is a translation of the entire hymn in Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed., Vol. I: Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992; paperback 1996), pp. 90-92.

There may be a simpler explanation of the words tu vinclis Tartara cingis in the Hymn to the Moon, but if there is, it escapes me. Equally far-fetched would be a reference to the capture of Set/Typhon by Isis' son Horus, mentioned by Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 19 = Moralia 358 D (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
Now the battle, as they relate, lasted many days and Horus prevailed. Isis, however, to whom Typhon was delivered in chains, did not cause him to be put to death, but released him and let him go.
In some accounts Typhon was imprisoned in Tartarus.

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