Saturday, June 16, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Pasiphae

This is my forty-sixth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. After the happily married couple of yesterday's poem, I wanted to follow up with a very different mythological couple: Pasiphae and the bull, from a poem found in the Greek Anthology. Turning poems from the Greek Anthology into Latin verse is a challenge that has attracted many Latin scholars, including the great Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), who is the author of today's poem (you can see his edition of the Greek Anthology in Latin at Google Books).

The speaker is Pasiphae, asking Eros, the god of love, for assistance. Poor Pasiphae has fallen in love with a bull, and she needs help in winning the bull's affections. Legend tells us that Pasiphae asked the craftsman Daedalus to create a cow suit for her, but she needs additional advice from Eros, as you can see in today's poem:

Doctor, amatrícem qui me bovis esse docébas,
Et mugíre doce; tráhitur sic ille marítus.

Here is how the poem works:

Doctor. This is the Latin word for someone learned, a teacher, a professor. Pasiphae sees Eros, Love, as her teacher; she is addressing him as Doctor Love!

amatrícem qui. The Latin word qui introduces a relative clause, doctor qui, the teacher who… Meanwhile, we also have a form of amátrix, a female lover, a mistress (you can see the ama- root in the English words amatory, amateur, etc.); the form amatrícem is accusative, so it will be the object of our verb.

me. This is from the Latin first-person pronoun, ego. The form me is accusative, meaning me. It agrees with amatrícem, also in the accusative, but without a verb we cannot be sure yet how this all fits together.

bovis. This is from the Latin word bos, meaning bull, ox (compare the English word bovine). The form bovis is genitive singular: of a bull, of an ox. In Pasiphae's story, that would fit nicely with amatrícem, as she is amatrícem bovis, mistress of the bull. 

esse docébas. Here at last is the verb that puts this all together! We have a form here of docere, meaning to teach (as in the English words doctor, docent, etc.). The form is second-person singular, past tense: docébas, you taught. The verb esse means to be (as in the English word essential). So, Pasiphae is saying to Eros, Doctor, you are the one who taught me to be, qui me esse docébas, the ox's lover, amatrícem bovis.

So, in the first line, Pasiphae has addressed the god Eros and reminded him of the fact that he has made her fall in love with a bull. In the next line, she will tell Doctor Love what else she needs to learn:

Et. This Latin word means and, also, too. 

mugíre doce. Here we have the imperative form of docere: doce, teach me. The verb mugíre means to moo (it is onomatopoetic: mu-gire). So, Pasiphae demands, teach me also to moo, et mugíre doce.

tráhitur. This is from the Latin verb trahere, meaning to pull, to drag (from the participle, tractus, we get the English words tractor, traction, etc.). The form is third-person singular, passive: tráhitur, he is pulled, he is attracted.

sic. This Latin word means thus, in this way (you sometimes see the Latin word sic used in English to indicate something that has been quoted exactly thus as in the original, misspellings included). So we now know that in this way, sic, he can be pulled, he can be attracted, tráhitur - but we need a subject for the verb.

ille marítus. The Latin noun marítus means husband (compare the English word marital), and it can also be used to mean a potential husband, a lover, a suitor. The demonstrative adjective ille means that, that one. So, put it all together and we can see why Pasiphae wants to learn how to moo like a cow: in this way, sic, that bovine suitor can be attracted to her, tráhitur ille marítus.

So, Pasiphae's plea to Doctor Love is complete, Doctor, she says, you who taught me to be the bull's lover, amatrícem qui me bovis esse docébas, please teach me also how to moo, et mugíre doce, because in this way I can attract that bovine lover to me, tráhitur sic ille marítus.

Doctor, amatrícem qui me bovis esse docébas,
Et mugíre doce; tráhitur sic ille marítus.

Pasiphae's please to Doctor Love was successful: she and the bull became lovers and the offspring of their bizarre union was the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull, as you can see in the image below. You can read more about Pasiphae at Wikipedia, and here is the poem in Greek:

Εἰ ποθέειν μ' ἐδίδαξας ἐν οὔρεσι ταῦρον ἀλήτην,
μυκηθμόν με δίδαξον, ὅτῳ φίλον ἄνδρα καλέσσω.

For more poems from the Greek anthology in Latin, you can visit the Greek 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 mothers and daughters, fathers and sons: Herus, Servus; Filia, Mater; Pater, Filius.

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