Friday, December 30, 2016

Latin Reader (4): Ventosa alvus

Now that I can get musical accompaniment for the "fugues" that accompany each emblem in the Atalanta fugiens,  I am really going to enjoy doing these posts! I did Emblem XXXVI because it had showed up in Roos, and now I'll go back to the beginning and start with the first emblem: Portavit eum ventus in ventre suo.

Portavit eum ventus in ventre suo.
The wind carried him (portavi eum ventus) in his stomach (in ventre suo).

Note the nice wordplay on ventus (wind, like in our word ventilate) and venter (stomach, like in our word ventriloquist).

Here is the image: look for the baby in the belly! For a hand-colored version, see Adam McLean's website: Emblem I.

Here's the baby:

Embryo ventosa Boreae qui clauditur alvo, 
   Vivus in hanc lucem si semel ortus erit;
Unus is Heroum cunctos superare labores
   Arte, manu, forti corpore, mente, potest.
Ne tibi sit Caeso, nec abortus inutilis ille, 
   Non Agrippa, bono sydere sed genitus.

For the first 10 emblems, there is a transcription by Clay Holden of British Library MS. Sloane 3645 (although sad to say, the British Library has not made a digitized version available online):

If BOREAS can in his own Wind conceive
An offspring that can bear this light & live;
In art, Strength, Body, Mind He shall excell
All wonders men of Ancient Heroes tell.
Think him no Caeso nor Abortive brood,
Nor yet Agrippa, for his Star is good.

Here is a more literal translation:

If the embryo of the North Wind (si embryo Boreae), who is enclosed (qui clauditur) in his windy womb (ventosa alvo), should but once (semel) arise (ortus erit) living (vivus) into this light (in hanc lucem), he alone (is unus) can exceed (potest superare) with his skill, fighting hand, strong body, and mind (arte, manu, forti corpore, mente) all the labors of the Heroes (Heroum cunctos labores). Don't you suppose (ne tibi sit) that he is born by Caesarian section (ille Caeso) nor that he is a useless abortion (nec abortus inutilis), nor a breech birth (non Agrippa), but born (sed genitus) with a good star (bono sydere).

The image recalls Zeus bearing his infant son Dionysus in his own body (in his thigh, to be precise) after having incinerated Dionysus's mother Semele. I was even thinking the somewhat odd "semel" in the poem might be an allusion to her name. In the commentary that goes with the poem, there is mention both of the Semele story and also the story of the birth of Asclepius, son of Apollo, whom Apollo rescued from his mother's womb while she burned on the funeral pyre.

Mercurius itaque est ventus, qui sulfur seu Dionysium, aut, si mavis, Aesculpaium adhuc imperfectum foetum ex ventre materno, vel etiam ex cineribus corporis materni combusti accipiat, et portet eo, ubi maturari possit.

Thus Mercury (Mercurius itaque) is the wind (est ventus), who would take to himself (qui accipiat) sulfur or Dionysius (sulfur seu Dionysium) — or, if you prefer (aut, si mavis), Asclepius (Aesculpaium) — while still an unformed foetus (adhuc imperfectum foetum) from the maternal stomach (ex ventre materno) or even from the ashes (vel etiam ex cineribus) of the maternal body (corporis materni) that had been burnt (combusti), and would then carry him (et portet) until (eo ubi) he could mature (maturari possit).

And now, here is the recording:

Or just the music if you prefer; you can get a CD of this arrangement by Burt Griswold at his website,

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