Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Dulcius Nil Puto

This is my thirty-sixth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. After yesterday's poem about the seductive combination of wine, night and love, I thought it would be fun to follow up with an enthusiastic little poem about sharing a glass of wine with your beloved husband or wife! This is one of the rhyming distichs collected by Julius Wegeler; here is the poem:

Dulce merum, dulcis coniunx, mens óptima dulcis:
Dúlcius his iunctis in rebus nil puto cunctis.

Here's how it works:

Dulce. This from the Latin word dulcis, meaning sweet (compare the English word dulcet). The form is neuter singular, so we need to be on the look-out for a neuter singular noun.

merum. This Latin word means wine, specifically pure wine that has not been mixed with water. It is neuter in gender, which gives us a complete statement: dulce merum, wine is sweet (forms of the verb to be are often omitted in Latin, as here).

dulcis coniunx. Here we have the Latin word for spouse, coniunx (compare the English word conjugal), which gives us another complete statement: dulcis coniunx, a spouse is sweet. The forms dulcis and coniunx could be either feminine or masculine in gender, so this could be referring to a husband or to a wife.

mens. This Latin word means mind, state of mind (compare the English word mental). This noun is feminine in gender.

óptima. This is from the Latin adjective optimus, meaning the best, something that is excellent (compare the English word optimist). The form is feminine, so it goes with mens, giving us a noun phrase: mens óptima, the best state of mind, an excellent mood.

dulcis. Here we have dulcis again, and it makes a complete statement with our last noun phrase: mens óptima dulcis, being in an excellent mood is sweet.

So, the first line gives us three sweet things: Dulce merum, wine is sweet, dulcis coniunx, a spouse is sweet, mens óptima dulcis, and being in a good mood is sweet. Now let's see what the second line brings:

Dúlcius. This is the comparative form of dulcis, so it means more sweet, sweeter. The form is neuter, so we are on the lookout for a neuter noun.

his iunctis. This is the Latin demonstrative adjective hic, meaning this, and the participle iunctus, meaning joined, joined together (compare the English word junction). The form is ablative plural: his iunctis, these things joined together. The ablative case is used to express a comparison, so that fits perfectly with our comparative adjective: dúlcius his iunctis, something sweeter than these things joined together (that is, the wine and the spouse and the good mood from the first line).

in rebus. This is the Latin preposition in, meaning in, while rebus is the ablative plural form of res, meaning thing (which is the origin of the English word rebus). The result is a prepositional phrase: in rebus, in things. So, we're still waiting for a subject and verb to help us pull all this together.

nil. This is the Latin word that means nothing; it is a contraction of the word nihil (compare the English words nil and nihilism). It is a neuter noun, so that gives us a statement to work with: nil dúlcius, there is nothing sweeter, his iunctis, than these things joined together.

puto. This is from the Latin verb putare, meaning to think, to reckon (compare the English words impute, compute, dispute). The form is first-person singular: puto, I think. So, that gives some context to our statement: puto, I think that, nil dúlcius, there is nothing sweeter, his iunctis, than these things joined together.

cunctis. Here we have a form of the Latin adjctive cunctus meaning all, every; the form is ablative plural, agreeing with rebus, giving us this prepositional phrase: in rebus cunctus, in all things or, as we might say in English, in all the world.

So, put that all together and you have the second line: Dúlcius his iunctis, Sweeter than these things, I think there is nothing, nil puto, in the whole world, in rebus cunctis.

Note the rhyming: iunctis - cunctis! Although classical Roman poets were not fond of rhyme, it was extremely popular in medieval Latin poetry, as we see in this poem, where the first line repeats dulcis-dulcis, while the second line rhymes iunctis-cunctis. (The technical term for this internally rhymed line in Latin is Leonine verse.)

Dulce merum, dulcis coniunx, mens óptima dulcis:
Dúlcius his iunctis in rebus nil puto cunctis.

So, the next time you are in a good mood and enjoying a glass of wine with your spouse, you might try using this distich as an elegant Latin toast; the rhyme makes it easy to remember, too! For more of these medieval rhyming poems in Latin, you can visit the rhyming stream in my Latin distichs blog, and here is a link to the blog post for this specific poem. As I add new English essays, you will be able to find those in the English stream at the blog. The next poem is also about love: Nescio Quid Sit Amor.

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