Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Comical Construes

Hugh E.P. Platt, A Last Ramble in the Classics (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1906), pp. 168-169:
But the most comical of all are the ancient construes, perhaps apocryphal, by boys of

        Vere novo gelidus canis cum montibus umor

and of

        Aulide te fama est vento retinente morari.

I give them for the sake of any reader to whom they may be strange, in the first case veiling an English expression by a Latin word. The boy began: 'Vere novo: strange but true; cum: when; gelidus canis: the cold dog; liquitur: mingit; montibus: on the mountains.' 'Vastly well,' said the master, 'and pray what is umor?' 'Umor, for a joke.'

The other was the translation which so much amused Canon Ainger. 'There is a report, Aulidus, that you are dying from a retention of wind.'
The first quotation comes from Vergil, Georgics 1.43-44, and really means (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), "In the dawning spring, when icy streams trickle from snowy mountains..." Piercing Platt's veil, we see that he has substituted Latin mingit for English pees, so the construe, taken as a whole, is "Strange but true, when the cold dog pees on the mountains for a joke..."

The second quotation comes from Ovid, Heroides 13.3 (Laodamia to Protesilaus), and really means (tr. Grant Showerman, rev. G.P. Goold), "Report says you are held at Aulis by the wind," explained by the translators thus: "With the rest of the Greek fleet, which was under divine displeasure because Agamemnon had killed a stag in the grove of Diana." The schoolboy confused morari (to linger, delay) with mori (to die), and thought that Aulide (at Aulis) was the vocative of a personal name Aulidus.

The "cold dog" in the first comical construe reminds me of Christopher Morley, A Morning in Marathon, from Shandygaff (1918):
As I passed through on my way to the Philadelphia train I was amused by a wicker basket full of Scotch terrier puppies — five or six of them tumbling over one another in their play and yelping so that the station rang. "Every little bit yelps" as someone has said. I was reminded of the last words I ever read in Virgil (the end of the sixth book of the Aeneid) — stant litore puppes, which I always yearned to translate "a litter of puppies."
It really refers to ships and means (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), "The sterns rest upon the beach."

The Emperor Claudius was concerned about the dangers arising from the "retention of wind," according to Suetonius, Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.

dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

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