Saturday, February 20, 2016


The Country versus the City

Petrarch (1304-1374), Secretum, from Dialogue 2 (Augustine speaking; tr. William H. Draper):
Do you remember with what delight you used to wander in the depth of the country? Sometimes, laying yourself down on a bed of turf, you would listen to the water of a brook murmuring over the stones; at another time, seated on some open hill, you would let your eye wander freely over the plain stretched at your feet; at others, again, you enjoyed a sweet slumber beneath the shady trees of some valley in the noontide heat, and revelled in the delicious silence. Never idle, in your soul you would ponder over some high meditation, with only the Muses for your friends—you were never less alone than when in their company, and then, like the old man in Virgil who reckoned himself
"As rich as kings, when, at the close of day,
Home to his cot he took his happy way,
And on his table spread his simple fare,
Fresh from the meadow without cost or care,"
you would come at sunset back to your humble roof; and, contented with your good things, did you not find yourself the richest and happiest of mortal men?

meministi quanta cum voluptate reposto quondam rure vagabaris, et nunc herbosis pratorum thoris accubans murmur aque luctantis hauriebas, nunc apertis collibus residens subiectam planitiem libero metiebaris intuitu; nunc in aprice vallis umbraculo dulci sopore correptus optato silentio fruebaris; nunquam otiosus, mente aliquid altum semper agitans, et, solis Musis comitantibus, nusquam solus? Denique virgiliani senis exemplo qui
regum equabat opes animo, seraque revertens
nocte domum, dapibus mensas onerabat inemptis
sub occasum solis angustam domum repetens et tuis contentus bonis, nunquid non tibi omnium mortalium longe ditissimus et plane felicissimus videbaris?
Id. (Petrarch speaking):
Who shall find words to utter my daily disgust for this place where I live, in the most melancholy and disorderly of towns, the narrow and obscure sink of the earth, where all the filth of the world is collected? What brush could depict the nauseating spectacle —streets full of disease and infection, dirty pigs and snarling dogs, the noise of cart-wheels grinding against the walls, four-horse chariots coming dashing down at every cross-road, the motley crew of people, swarms of vile beggars side by side with the flaunting luxury of the wealthy, the one crushed down in sordid misery, the others debauched with pleasure and riot; and then the medley of characters—such diverse rôles in life—the endless clamour of their confused voices, as the passers-by jostle one another in the streets? All this destroys the soul accustomed to any better kind of life, banishes all serenity from a generous heart, and quite upsets the student's habit of mind.

quis vite mee tedia et quotidianum fastidium sufficienter exprimat, mestissimam turbulentissimamque urbem terrarum omnium, angustissimam atque ultimam sentinam et totius orbis sordibus exundantem? quis verbis equet que passim nauseam concitant: graveolentes semitas, permixtas rabidis canibus obscenas sues, et rotarum muros quatientium stridorem aut transversas obliquis itineribus quadrigas; tam diversas hominum species, tot horrenda mendicantium spectacula, tot divitum furores: illos mestitia defixos, hos gaudio lasciviaque fluitantes; tam denique discordantes animos, artesque tam varias, tantum confusis vocibus clamorem, et populi inter se arietantis incursum? que omnia et sensus melioribus assuetos conficiunt et generosis animis eripiunt quietem et studia bonarum a contium interpellant.
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