Thursday, June 14, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Aurora Musis Amica

This is my forty-fourth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. In my project this summer to compile an anthology of Latin distichs, I feel closely connected with Barthold Nihus, who published his own colossal collection of Latin distichs in 1642, so I decided to tackle a distich from his anthology today. My own goal is to find distichs that will be useful for beginning and intermediate students of Latin, while Nihus had as his goal to represent the whole range of Latin distich composition as widely as possible in both time (ancient and contemporary) and space (he includes poetry from all the countries of Europe; the anthology is itself organized geographically). Thanks to his diligent compilation efforts, I have found all kinds of poems by poets I have never heard of before; today's poem is by one of those, to me, unknown poets: Iohannes Christenius (1599-1672). If you are a "morning person," this poem is for you!

As often, the poem takes as its title a well-known Latin saying, Auróra Musis Amíca.

Auróra. This is the Latin word for dawn.

Musis. This is from the Latin word Musa, meaning Muse. You can read about the Muses in this Wikipedia article. The form here, Musis, is plural, either ablative or dative. We will have to keep reading to determine which it is.

Amíca. This is from the Latin adjective amícus, meaning friendly; the adjective can also be used substantively as a noun, meaning friend. We have here the feminine singular form, agreeing with Auróra. The word amíca also wants to take a dative complement (a friend to…), so we can put the title together now: Auróra Amíca, Dawn is a Friend to the Muses, Auróra Musis Amíca.

Here is the poem that goes with the proverbial title:

Convéniens stúdiis non est nox, cómmoda lux est;
Luce labor bonus est et bona nocte quies.

And here is how the poem works:

Convéniens. This is a Latin participle meaning consistent, suitable, convenient. It is a compound: con-, together, and -veniens, coming. So, something that is convenient is something that comes together, something fits together, when one thing goes well with another.

stúdiis. This is from the Latin noun studium, which means eagerness, exertion, study. The form is dative plural: for studies, for studying. The participle convéniens is glad to have a dative complement: convéniens stúdiis, something is suitable for studying… but what is suitable for studying?

non est nox. Here we have the Latin word for night, nox (compare the English word nocturnal), and a negated form of the verb to be: non est, is not. Put it all together and we have a complete statement: night is not, non est nox, suitable for studying, convéniens stúdiis. Anybody who has pulled an all-nighter knows just how unproductive it can be to try to study when instead you really want to go to sleep!

cómmoda. This is from the Latin adjective cómmodus, which means complete, appropriate, fitting (compare the English word commodious). The form is either feminine singular or neuter plural; we will have to keep reading to discern which it is.

lux est. Here we have the Latin word for light, daylight, lux, along with the word for is, est. The noun lux is feminine, so that gives us a complete statement: cómmoda lux est, daylight is appropriate… for what? For studying, stúdiis.

So, that gives us the first line of the poem, contrasting nox and lux - nox, night, is not good for your studies, convéniens stúdiis non est nox, but lux, daylight, is appropriate, cómmoda lux est. The second line is also about night and day, but it inverts the order, describing the day first, and then the night:

Luce. This is the ablative form of the noun lux, light, so it means with light, by daylight.

labor. This is the Latin word that means hard work, labor. It is in the nominative form, so we know it is the subject of the sentence.

bonus est. This is the Latin adjective that means good (although in English we use the word bonus as a noun). The form is masculine, agreeing with labor, so that gives us a complete statement: luce labor bonus est, working by the light of day is good.

et. This little Latin word means and.

bona. This is the Latin adjective bonus again, this time in a form, bona,  that is either feminine nominative singular or neuter plural. We will have to keep reading to see how it works.

nocte. This is the ablative form of the word nox, so it means by night, at night (parallel to the ablative luce that we had earlier in this line).

quies. This Latin word means rest, relaxation, quiet. It is a feminine noun in the nominative case, so that gives us a complete statement, resting is good, bona (est) quies, during the nighttime, nocte.

So, put it all together and you have a tiny little poem is praise of working by day and sleeping by night… and, as the title promises, if you can stick to that schedule, the Muses will be your friends!

Convéniens stúdiis non est nox, cómmoda lux est;
Luce labor bonus est et bona nocte quies.

I try to be a morning person… but no doubt the Muses would be kinder to me if I could do a better job at getting up early! Of course, we are spoiled, living as we do in a world of electric light. Since I am very dependent on having good light to read by, if I had been living in pre-electric times, I would have been up at the crack of dawn in order to commune with the Muses as much as possible.

For more poems from Nihus' anthology, you can visit the Nihus stream in my Latin distichs blog, and as I add new English essays, you will be able to find those in the English stream at the blog likewise. The next poem is about the joys of married life (which do not always lead to getting up early, ha ha): Manus Manum Lavat.

(Muses, from Raphael's Parnassus)


  1. Hi! Just found this. Looks. Really. Nice. :). I'm currently plunging into latin without almost any background, except being from "latin america." The title for the poem strikes me, but I can't find the author for it. I know, being a proverb, it might not really have one.

  2. Hi Gaston, exactly: proverbs usually do not have authors, although sometimes famous authors do use them! Have fun with the Latin! I have a blog you might enjoy here:
    Bestiaria Latina


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