Friday, 14 November 2008

De raris fabulis

Ever since arriving at Cambridge and finding that the Insular Latin course took it for granted that I had done A-level (which is no longer the case) I have felt like I am playing catch-up with my Latin. (I did GCSE, at which level you just translate all the words and rearrange them into a sentence -- no man ever bit a dog in GCSE. With a smattering of superficial intelligence you can do well without learning much grammar at all.) In my first ever Cambridge supervision Andy Orchard (Provost Orchard as he is now known) showed me St Patrick's Confessio and asked me to spot the grammatical errors. Andy made the point that we were lucky when we could understand Patrick at all since his Latin education had ceased at sixteen (though in Patrick's case this was because he was abducted and sold into slavery, rather than that he chose different A-level courses). I meant to give up Latin every year, and never quite got round to it, until for my MPhil I edited the Vita S. Cuthburge; at that point my Latin was at a reasonable standard, but it slips away again so fast.

Anyway, at least our Insular Latin classes did start slowly, with early medieval texts made for teaching Latin to boys in monasteries. One, misleading called De raris fabulis, had some surprising ideas of what sort things they were going to need to be able to say in Latin. There doesn't seem to be a text online, but here is part of an image, taken from the wonderful Early Oxford Manuscripts Online, of the perhaps Cornish manuscript:

It's rather a nice bit, as opposed to the many chapters which involve savage beatings:
Audi frater ueni huc.
Quid uis carissime indica me?
Ego uolo te salutare.
Audi princeps da mihi potum de liquore qui in manu tua est.
Audi pistor uel cocus da mihi cibum ex colina tua.
Audi frater carissime ueni iuxta me et sede in pace.

Then the rather endearing:
Audi uxor pulcherima ueni huc cito et osculare me et pone manus tua circa collum meum.
and the more daring:
O puella optima da mihi osculum.
then the rather bathetic:
O iuuencula laua uestimenta mea hodie laua caput meum et faciem simul cum barba.
to the troubling:
O frater ueni mecum ad meam necessitatem.
which gets this understandable response:
Non ibo frater quia non facile est mihi quia aliud opus occupauit me.
How seriously would one take this as suggesting that people talked to their wives in Latin? Not very, I suspect. There are advanced colloquies for better students, including a very scatological slanging match between a teacher and a pupil. Oddly this also includes the Latin for asking someone to accompany you to the toilet, and a request not to stand in the light.

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