Saturday, December 17, 2011


Here is today's distich by John Owen, with an English translation by Thomas Harvey, 2.216. Owen dedicated this poem his friend William James, Ad Amicum Suum D. Guilielmum James. William James (1542 - 1617) was Master of University College and alter Bishop of Durham. The epigram is an acknowledgment of the special etymological privilege of the word "music" which of all the arts is the one whose name is derived from the ancient Greek Muses, Μοῦσαι. The English word "museum" is from the same root, as is "mosaic." Among the ancient Greek Muses, there was not a specific Muse dedicated to "music" in the sense that we use the word today - although several of the Muses did have musical instruments as their emblems: Euterpe, the Muse of song, carried an aulos (flute); Erato, the Muse of love poetry, carried a cithara, which was a type of lyre; and Terpsichore, the Muse of dance, also carried a lyre.

Optima Musarum est; reliquis idcirco negatum
Artibus, a Musis musica nomen habet.

The name of Musick from the Muses came;
Best Art; none other Science hath this Name.

The vocabulary is keyed to the DCC Latin Vocabulary list. There are only three words in this poem that are not on the DCC list:

idcirco - on that account, for this reason
Mūsa, f. - Muse
mūsica, f. - the art of music, music

ā ab abs: from, by (+abl.)
ars artis f.: skill
habeō habēre habuī habitum: have, hold
negō -āre: deny, refuse
nōmen -inis n.: name
optimus -a -um: best, excellent; adv. optimē
reliquus -a -um: remaining, rest
sum, esse, fuī: be, exist

(The Muse Terpsichore - Le Sueur Eustache)

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