From An Introduction to Venatius Fortunatus for Schoolchildren or Understanding the Medieval Concept World Through Metonymy
Mike Schorsch translating the Latin of Venantius Fortunatus
Excerpted from An Introduction to Venatius Fortunatus for Schoolchildren or Understanding the Medieval Concept World Through Metonymy, available from Anomalous Press
Unit 2, Chapter 6. Four Addressed to a Tender Friend.
GAUL. INTERIOR. DAY. THE ROYAL HOUSE.
Enter VENANTIUS FORTUNATUS. He is dressed in the official color of the Virgin Mary (blue). GOGON, a new friend of Fortunatus, is lounging on a pillow and eating the skin off a GOOSE CARCASS. Gogon is a war chieftain and a learned advisor to the prince SIGIBERT. Sigibert recently hired Fortunatus to come and write poems for him about court life and the fine buildings being built. Fortunatus is still a relatively young troubadour. At this point in his life, he has already been miraculously healed of blindness by St. Martin of Tours, but has not yet met Abbess Radegund.
As for Gogon, he has just returned from Spain, where Sigibert sent him to bring back a SPANISH PRINCESS that Sigibert recently fell in love with. It is the mid-500s AD.
This is how the meetings of Fortunatus and Gogon go: Fortunatus recites a poem. Gogon listens and then gives pointers about Sigibert’s tastes. In this encounter though, Fortunatus recites a poem he wrote about Gogon, not about Sigibert.
Venantius Fortunatus is a man whom we cannot see or ever meet (pending supernatural intervention and/or time travel) because he is dead. This is a disappointing thought for many translators. In order to better understand translators and their desire to know dead people, let us abandon our first principles and join them in the practice of translation-as-we-know-it, that is to say, translation that pretends time travel in the strict sense is unnecessary, that is to say, the omnivorous tradition of translation which pretends there is no tradition that cannot be consumed and reproduced by one whose thought is properly calibrated in respect to openness and discernment and a desire to know the dead as one knows a friend.
Fortunatus looks into a dark mirror as he recites his poem to Gogon. All mirrors were dark in the mid-500s AD, due to an insufficiently advanced knowledge of how to flatten things. Clear reflections were thought to exist only in perfectly still ponds and the afterlife.
Fortunatus sees there:
Poem VII.I of Fortunatus. To Gogon.
Orpheus, his thumb on the weft of strings,
reaches out his singing lyre to the wild,
and hollowed dens let go their beasts,
and tigresses set down their rage to come.
Philomela, who was raped, had to go a long way.
But she came when his music made its vow.
She could recreate herself.
Like that, pilgrims through far kingdoms are made
captives of your eloquence. Your words, your mouth,
water and honey.
And your voice flows on from secret depths,
from your hidden cause. Your inner temple,
your bright home shake out rays of splendor,
and the beauty of your face—
The prince chose you, the flower the bees come to.
And the wise choose the wise, a lover a lover.
You have been to Spain and you return with bride-to-be,
you carry back the summit of joys to a good man.
Swords, deadly soldiers, forests of razor, no one
can offer what you win him peaceably. And you love him.
And you don’t need my words, carrying my heart.
I say it, the people witness it, the truth that no lie
is in me. I wish my praises to last long,
long years. I want this life to keep you here,
and that life to sustain you lovingly.
Poem VII.III of Fortunatus. A short letter to Gogon. Months later.
There’s a quarrel then. Well, what you just sent me extends it, no? But listen, between you and me there’s only one guilty party. You were at Reims and that, my friend, ruined everything. Or perhaps you sinned, and I’m to blame? Not so. And…
And no. And never mind. And not this. Not this sweetness. It won’t die. It shouldn’t anyway, not over this sort of thing.
The warmth of our love will do nothing but persist.
In this heart at least.
Assignment for Chapter 6.
We all have had moments when we misunderstood the ways of a foreign culture. However, even more dangerous were those moments when we understood the ways of a foreign culture. In the Middle Ages love was a form of aristocratic self-definition. If you do not understand this, attempt to define yourself without reference to love. Then, pretend you are an aristocrat. The main objective of this is to raise students’ cross-cultural sensitivity as well as to practice four traditional language skills. The second question, below, should open with a “Diversity Welcome,” a greeting of identities, backgrounds, and feelings that might be present in the group.
- Were the previous four poems/letters more or less accurately translated than those which came before? How do you know this?
- How would you be able to tell yourself apart from your spouse, if you shared the same body? Please be as specific as possible.
- Would you say something to me about spiritual friendship? What is it? What’s so good about it? How do you start a spiritual friendship, and what is the purpose of one? Can friendship exist among all persons? If not, then among whom? How can you keep your spiritual friendships from collapsing into ruin?
- Now name the first two books that come to mind. They should be The Lord of the Rings and some other book of your own choosing.
- How does knowledge of a larger historical narrative affect your reading of translations?
Mike Schorsch doesn’t live here anymore. Other excerpts from An Introduction to Venantius Fortunatus have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Action Yes, Anomalous, LVNG, Notre Dame Review, The Iowa Review, and Vanitas. He sometimes writes under the name Mike Czagany.
Venantius Fortunatus (d. ca. 600 AD) was an early medieval troubadour, eventual Catholic bishop of Poitiers, and saint by popular acclamation. His Latin hymns and poems won him the admiration of eight centuries of monks and the scorn of six centuries of classicists.
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