Monday, June 11, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Si Sciens Fallo

This is my forty-first "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. I thought I would follow up on yesterday's poem about Jupiter and the lightning with another poem about Jupiter and the blast of his thunderbolt. This time, Jupiter is invoked as a divine avenger, providing the celestial guarantee that enforces a human oath. The poem is by Rollenhagen, and you can see in the illustration a sow, alluding to the sacrifice of a pig at the making of the oath; meanwhile, the hand of God is offering a silex stone, which was the ritual object that the priests used to strike the pig:


For details about the Romans sacrificing a pig in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, see this Wikipedia article. Livy, in his history of Rome, provides the text of the Roman priests' prayer (section 1.24, Latin / English), and here is Rollenhagen's little poem as inspired by that prayer:

"Si te fallo sciens, fériat me Iúpiter ultor,"
Dicébat pangens foédera Roma vetus.

This is how the poem works:

Si. This little Latin word means if.

te. This is a form of the second-person singular pronoun, tu, meaning you. The form te could be ablative or accusative; we will have to keep on reading to see which it is.

fallo. This is from the Latin verb fallere, meaning to deceive, to cheat (from the participle, falsus, we get the English word false). The form is first-person singular: fallo, I deceive. We can use te as the object, giving us a hypothetical statement: si te fallo, if I deceive you.

sciens. This is from the Latin verb scire, meaning to know (compare the English words science and omniscient). The form is an active participle: sciens, knowing. It is in the nominative case, so it modifies the subject of the verb, much like an adverb in English: si te fallo sciens, if I knowing(ly) fool you.

fériat. This is from the verb ferire, meaning to strike, to smite. The form is third-person singular in the subjunctive mood, expressing potential: fériat, may he strike, let him strike. We will have to keep reading to find out just who or what is the subject of this verb.

me. This is from the Latin first-person singular pronoun ego, meaning I. The form is accusative: me, meaning me (yes, it is cognate with the English word me!). So, we have an object for our verb: fériat me, let him strike me!

Iúpiter. This is the name of the god Jupiter (Zeus), in the nominative case, giving us the subject of the verb: fériat me Iúpiter, let Jupiter strike me!

ultor. This Latin noun means avenger. It is in the nominative case, giving us one of Jupiter's ritual titles: Iúpiter ultor, Jupiter the avenger!

So, that gives us the first line of the poem; as I make a pledge to you, I invoke Jupiter as a third party, an avenger who will punish me, fériat me Iúpiter ultor, if I am lying to you, si te fallo sciens. The next line of the poem puts this into a Roman context:

Dicébat. This is from the Latin verb dicere, meaning to speak, to say (compare the English words diction, dictum, etc.). The form is third-person singular, past tense: dicébat, said. We don't know yet who the subject is.

pangens. This is from the Latin verb pangere, which means to determine, settle, establish (from the participle, pactus, we get the English word pact). The form is a participle in the nominative case, so it modifies the subject of the verb: whoever is speaking is also settling something.

foédera. This is from the Latin noun foedus, meaning a treaty, a covenant, an agreement. The form is plural: foédera, treaties. That gives us an object for our participle: pangens foédera, establishing treaties. We are still waiting on our subject!

Roma vetus. The Latin name of Rome is Roma, and vetus is an adjective that means old (compare the English word veteran). So, this noun phrase gives us the subject of our verb: Roma vetus, old Rome, used to speak these words, dicébat, when swearing treaties, pangens foédera.

Notice that the poem itself does not invoke the sacrifice of the pig, but the illustration reminds us that the death of the pig was a symbolic invocation of the power of Jupiter to strike down the people who might break their word - think of it as something like the English promise "Cross my heart and hope to die," but with an animal sacrifice, instead of just symbolically crossing your heart.

"Si te fallo sciens, fériat me Iúpiter ultor,"
Dicébat pangens foédera Roma vetus.

Although Rollenhagen is not all that well known, his emblem books inspired a highly popular English imitation by George Wither (1588-1667), who accompanied each of the emblems with a long poem in English. Here is an excerpt from Wither's English poem as inspired by Rollenhagen's Latin  emblem:

When th'Ancients made a solemne League or Vow,
Their Custome was to ratifie it, thus;
Before their Idoll God, they slew a Sow,
And sayd aloud; So be it unto us.
Implying, that, if otherwise they did
Then had been vow'd; or, if within their Brest
A Fraudulent-Intention had beene hid,
They merited such Vsage, as that Beast.

For more of Wither's poem, see the online edition at Penn State, and for more of Rollenhagen's emblems, you can visit the Rollenhagen stream in my Latin distichs blog. Here is a link to the blog post for this specific poem. Meanwhile, as I add new English essays, you will be able to find those in the English stream at the blog. The next essay is about a famous incident from Roman history: Terror et Error.

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