Monday, June 18, 2012

Latin Without Latin: De Parvis

This is my forty-eighth "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. I've been working hard on the distich project for about a month now and have accumulated such a big stack of materials to work with, thanks to being able to work on the project every single day, bit by bit. I chose a poem for today that fits with the theme of gathering things, bit by bit, into a great harvest! This one of the emblematic poems of Rollenhagen; as usual, he has taken a famous proverb (it was even a Google Toolbar Easter Egg a few years ago) to use as the title: De Parvis Grandis Acérvus Erit. You will see the title incorporated into the second line of the poem:

Adde parum parvo, parvo superádde pusíllum,
Tandem de parvis grandis acérvus erit.

Here is how the poem works:

Adde. This is from the Latin verb addere, meaning to add. The form is imperative, giving a command: adde, add!

parum. This Latin word means a very little bit, not much at all. So, that gives us an object for the verb: adde parum, add a tiny bit.

parvo. This is from the Latin adjective parvus, meaning small, tiny, little. The form here is neuter, meaning a small thing, something small, and the case is dative: to something small, to a small thing. That fits in nicely with our verb: adde parum parvo, add a tiny bit to some small thing.

parvo. Here we have parvo again, this time as the first word in our next statement.

superádde. This is from the verb superaddere, to add on top of (the prefix super- means on top of, as in the English words supernatural, superimpose, etc.). The form is again imperative: superadde, add on top!

pusíllum. This is from the Latin adjective pusíllus, meaning small, trifling, tiny (compare the English word pusillanimous). The case is accusative, giving us the object of our verb: parvo superádde pusíllum, to something tiny, parvo, add something small on top, superádde pusíllum.

So, that gives us a first line that tells us what to do: adde, and then superadde - add, and then keep adding on top of that, one little thing after another (parum, parvum, pusíllum). The second line tells us what the result will be:

Tandem. This Latin word means finally, at last. (And yes, this Latin word is the origin of the English use of tandem to mean a two-seated bicycle.)

de parvis. Here we have the Latin preposition de, meaning from, along with the plural form of parvum. The result is a prepositional phrase: de parvis, from small things.

grandis. This Latin adjective means big, great, grand. It is in the nominative case, agreeing with the subject of the statement - but we need to keep on reading to find both our subject and our verb.

acérvus erit. The Latin noun acérvus means a heap, a pile; the form is nominative, giving us the subject of the statement. The verb erit is the future tense form of the verb esse, to be (compare the English word essentia). So, acérvus erit, there will be a heap. More specifically: de parvis, from little things, grandis acérvus erit, there will be a great heap!

So, that is the whole poem: gather up the fruits of your labors bit by bit, and you will have a great harvest! Lots of little things add up to something big:

Adde parum parvo, parvo superádde pusíllum,
Tandem de parvis grandis acérvus erit.

There is a famous edition of Rollenhagen's emblems in English by the 17th-century English poet, George Wither. Here is how he renders this distich in English:

Of Little-Gaines, let Care be had;
For, of small Eares, great Mowes are made.

For more of Rollenhagen's poems in Latin, you can visit the Rollenhagen stream in my Latin distichs blog, and 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 less happy harvest: Fructus Veritus.