Friday, June 15, 2012


Benedetto Accolti's Ode to Sleep

I can't remember the last time I slept through the night without interruption. An Ode to Sleep by Benedetto Accolti, in Latin Writings of the Italian Humanists. Selections by Florence Alden Gragg (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927), pp. 353-354, has never been translated into English, so far as I can tell. I amused myself in the middle of the night, during episodes of wakefulness, by trying to translate it. My rough translation (a crib, really) looks like verse, but isn't. I merely followed the original line by line.
Night rushes on; driven aloft on a black chariot,
it darkens the shaded earth with a pleasant coolness;
and all the human race, with cares banished,
refreshes tired limbs in sleep's embrace.
But forgetfulness does not restore my weary mind,        5
and even you, Sleep, shun my prayers.
Sleep, the soul's repose, Sleep, alleviation of cares,
come here and advance, o silent one, your holy foot;
carrying a branch dipped in the waters of Lethe,
moisten my brows, overpowered by soft dew.        10
At last drive away the obstructing crowds of worries
and may I, untroubled, pursue your gifts,
so that the misfortunes of this topsy-turvy age touch me not,
nor the cruel times revive my gloomy fears.
I will bring flowers to you and fresh cassia,        15
where the sweetly sounding wave flows with easy motion.
A cock, with purple crest rising up,
will stain the ground for you, its throat cut.
Now at last may your power bind my weary limbs
while it is pleasing and the bright constellations are setting.        20
The Latin:
Nox ruit et caelum fuscis invecta quadrigis
  umbrosam molli frigore opacat humum
atque adeo curis hominum genus omne repulsis
  languida concepto membra sopore levat.
Nulla tamen fessam reparant oblivia mentem        5
  et refugis nostras tu quoque, Somne, preces.
Somne, animi requies, curarum, Somne, levamen,
  huc ades et sanctum fer, taciturne, pedem,
imbutumque gerens lethaeo gurgite ramum,
  fac rore immadeant tempora victa levi.        10
Curarum obstantes demum propelle catervas
  et mihi securo sit tua dona sequi,
ut neque me eversi tangant incommoda saecli
  nec renovent tristes tempora saeva metus.
Ipse tibi floresque feram casiamque recentem,        15
  dulce sonans facili qua fugit unda pede,
et tibi, purpurea insurgat cui vertice crista,
  ales dissecto gutture tinguet humum.
Nunc tua defessos tandem vis alliget artus,
  dum iuvat et caelo lucida signa cadunt.        20

9 gerens: gerent Gragg et al.
Lines 7-18 are a good example of the "da ut dem" type of prayer.

The image of Sleep sprinkling water from Lethe (lines 9-10) may come from Vergil, Aeneid 5.854-856 (Sleep slips Palinurus a mickey; tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
But lo! the god, shaking over his temples a bough dripping with Lethe's dew and steeped in the drowsy night of Styx, despite his efforts relaxes his swimming eyes.

ecce deus ramum Lethaeo rore madentem
vique soporatum Stygia super utraque quassat
tempora, cunctantique natantia lumina solvit.
The source of the curious sacrifice at lines 17-18 is probably Ovid, Fasti 1.455-456 (tr. James G. Frazer, rev. G.P. Goold):
By night to Goddess Night the crested fowl is slain, because with wakeful notes he summons up the warm day.

nocte deae Nocti cristatus caeditur ales,
  quod tepidum vigili provocet ore diem.
Cf. also Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.597-598 (in the Cave of Sleep; tr. Frank Justus Miller):
There no wakeful, crested cock with his loud crowing summons the dawn.

non vigil ales ibi cristati cantibus oris
evocat Auroram.
Bettina Windau, Somnus: Neulateinische Dichtung an und über den Schlaf. Studien zur Motivik. Texte, Übersetzung, Kommentar (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 1998) discusses Accolti's ode to sleep, but the book is unavailable to me.

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