Wednesday, March 07, 2018


A Humorous Construe

Thomas Middleton (1580-1627), The Witch 2.2.9-25, in his Collected Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), p. 1143, with excerpts from the notes:
What's this? O, 'tis the charm her hagship gave me
For my duchess' obstinate woman, wound about        10
A threepenny silk ribbon, of three colours.
'Necte tribus nodis ternos Amoretta colores'
—Amoretta! Why, there's her name indeed!—
'Necte, Amoretta'—Again! Two bouts!—
'Nodo et Veneris, dic vincula necte.'        15
Nay, if veneries be one, I'm sure there's no dead flesh in't.
If I should undertake to cònstrue this now
I should make a fine piece of work of it,
For few young gallants are given to good construction
Of any thing (hardly of their best friends' wives,        20
Sisters or nieces). Let me see what I can do now.
'Necte tribus nodis'—'Nick of the tribe of noddies'—
'Ternos colores'—that makes 'turned colours'—
'Nodo et Veneris'—'goes to his venery like a noddy'—
'Dic vincula'—'with Dick the vintner's boy'!        25

12-15 Necte tribus...vincula necte The source of the charm is Virgil's Eighth Eclogue: Necte tribus nodis ternos, Amarylli, colores; / Necte, Amarylli, modo et 'Veneris', dic, 'vincula necto.' ('Twine three colour[ed ribbon]s in three knots, Amaryllis; / Just twine [them], Amaryllis, and say, "I twine the chains of Venus."') Although not as egregiously incompetent as Almachildes's English translation, the Latin quotation is flawed—notably in the replacement of modo by nodo .... The final word in the quotation is also a mistake ... the replacement of Virgil’s present indicative necto with the imperative necte.
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