Friday, February 03, 2017


George Buchanan's First Elegy Again

In The Futility and Pain of Latin Lessons, I printed D.A. Millar's loose translation of part of George Buchanan's first elegy. I just found a more literal translation by G.E. Davie, in Hugh MacDiarmid, ed., The Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941), pp. 25-29 (lines 29-74 on pp. 26-28; I added line numbers in brackets and corrected Montaigne to Montaigue):
It's this that causes sudden deaths and destroys hopes of seeing old age, [30] and neither Clio nor Phoebus helps one here. If the head sinks down with tired neck on the elbow and scant sleep shuts the weary eyes, hark the watchman suddenly announces it's four o'clock, and with terrifying peals disturbs the closed eyes: [35] thunder-struck as you are, the piercing bronze's sound shakes sleepiness away and gives warning to lift limbs from the soft couch. There's barely a silence, when five o'clock sounds; now the porter clashes the cymbals, summoning the raw recruits to their standards. Soon the master follows them in, fearsome in his long gown, [40] from his left shoulder his satchel hangs against his back. In his right hand is his weapon for attacking the lads—the cruel tawse; his left hand grasps great Virgil's stirring work. Now he is in his chair and shouting loud enough to burst his lungs; he proceeds with all his wits to examine the complicated passages, [45] he emends and deletes, alters, the points he has worked on while others slept he clearly explains—points which have long been doubtful and hidden. Important facts, facts discovered not by the previous age's wits he digs out, and does not hide away for his own use the treasures he has found. In the meantime the lazy young men for the most part snore, [50] or else many things take priority in their thoughts over the work before them. One is absent, there is a search for another who has bribed a neighbour to call his name, and by cleverness to make the teacher swallow the wily pretence. This fellow has no boots; in one of that man's shoes a hole yawns wide where the leather has burst; another has a pain and another is writing home. [55] Hence rods and roarings sound, and cheeks are wet with tears and there's nothing but sobbing all day long. Next a religious service summons us, then lessons again—and blows again; there is hardly any time allowed for taking a meal. No sooner is the table removed than a lesson begins, [60] and this lesson is succeeded in its turn by another; then a hasty supper—we rise and prolong our unconscionable work till late at night—as if the hours of day-light had been too short for really hard work. Why should I mention just now our toils' thousand stunners which a free spirit one would think oughtn't to have to suffer? [65] See the solid phalanxes of "galoches" from the city: the ground trembles under the tramp of their iron-shod heels; in rushes the mob and lends to the lesson stolid ears—ears such as of yore Phrygian Marsyas directed to Phoebus' lyre—and complains that street corners have not been posted with placards, [70] that their old friend Alexander is held in no honour, that the text-book is not big-bellied with full marginal notes, and that Guido's worthless manual is neglected and suppressed. Off they run with loud murmuring to Montaigue or some other college where things are near the A B C level.
The Latin:
Hinc subitae mortes, et spes praerepta senectae,
   Nec tibi fert Clio, nec tibi Phoebus opem.        30
Si caput in cubitum lassa cervice recumbat,
   Et sopor exiguus lumina fessa premat:
Ecce, vigil subito quartam denuntiat horam,
   Et tonitru horrifico lumina clausa quatit:
Excutit attonito somnos sonus aeris acuti,        35
   Admonet et molli membra levare toro.
Vix siluit, jam quinta sonat; jam janitor urget
   Cymbala, tirones ad sua signa vocans:
Mox sequitur longa metuendus veste magister,
   Ex humero laevo mantica terga premit.        40
Dextera crudeli in pueros armata flagello est:
   Laeva tenet magni forte Maronis opus.
Jam sedet, et longis clamoribus ilia rumpit,
   Excutit implicitos ingenioque locos.
Corrigit, et delet, mutat, vigilata labore        45
   Promit, in obscuro quae latuere diu.
Magna, nec ingeniis aevi explorata prioris,
   Eruit, inventas nec sibi celat opes.
[Ignava incerta stertit plerumque juventus,
   Cogitat aut curae multa priora suae.]        50
Alter abest, petiturque alter, mercede parato
   Qui vocet, et fictos condiat arte dolos.
Ille caret caligis, huic rupta calceus alter
   Pelle hiat: ille dolet, scribit et ille domum.
Hinc virgae, strepitusque sonant, fletuque rigantur        55
   Ora, inter lacrymas transigiturque dies.
Dein nos sacra vocant, dein rursus lectio, rursus
   Verbera: sumendo vix datur hora cibo.
Protinus amota sequitur nova lectio mensa,
   Excipit hanc rursus altera, coena brevis:        60
Surgitur, in seram noctem labor improbus exit,
   Ceu brevis aerumnis hora diurna foret.
Quid memorem interea fastidia mille laborum,
   Quae non ingenua mente ferenda putes?
Ecce tibi erronum plenas ex urbe phalanges,        65
   Terraque ferratis calcibus icta tremit:
Turba ruit, stolidasque legentibus applicat aures,
   Quales Phoebacae Phryx dedit ante lyrae.
Et queritur nullis onerari compita chartis,
   Esse et Alexandrum nullo in honore suum:        70
Nec gravidum pleno turgescere margine librum,
   Neglectumque premi vile Guidonis opus.
Curritur ad montem magno cum murmure acutum,
   Aut alias aedes, sicubi beta sapit.

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